Tourism business leaders are hoping that vaccination passes for visitors can allow the Cayman Islands to welcome back tourists this summer.

Marc Langevin, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said the election had put a freeze on any decisions over reopening.

Marc Langevin

But he believes one of the first orders of business for the next government will be to set a clear timeline for the return of tourism along with practical steps to make it happen.

Langevin believes the quarantine period should be reduced and ultimately eliminated for visitors with proof of vaccination this summer.

After that, he said, businesses would like to see an incremental increase in tourism.

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“It has to be a gradual and controlled approach, allowing to test and evaluate protocols but I am hopeful that after the election we can talk seriously about reopening,” said Langevin, also general manager of the Ritz Carlton resort.

He believes it could be possible for Cayman to build towards a full return of tourism by high season.

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Cayman’s reopening strategy is highly dependent on the national vaccination program. Currently arriving tourists, who have been tested and vaccinated, are still required to quarantine for 10 days. Those restrictions are expected to be eased once 75-80 percent of Cayman’s adult population is vaccinated.

Langevin, speaking following a meeting of CITA members last week, said there is could be a need to inject more urgency into the vaccination programme for those that may be complacent about getting the jab.

He said he was concerned that the numbers of people getting immunised were starting to plateau.

He said, “I believe government has done everything it can to protect the community; at some point, people have to be responsible.”

COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine
Public Health nurses prepare the Pfizer vaccine as part of the national vaccination plan. Photo: GIS

He said easing travel restrictions could involve a “carrot and stick” approach.

“The carrot is that if you are vaccinated you can start to travel and come back to Cayman without quarantine. The stick is that if you are on island, be aware that visitors and travelling residents are coming in and take steps to protect yourself.”

Dr. Michael Tibbetts, the vice-president of CITA and owner of Clearly Cayman dive resorts, said vaccination and testing offered Cayman the opportunity of a “very safe” reopening.

He said, CITA would like to see deadlines to get people vaccinated in sync with a timeline for reopening.

He said people in the Cayman Islands had been given free access to the best researched and likely most effective COVID-19 vaccine. But while the air and sea port remain effectively closed, he said there was no urgency to take it.

“I think at some point it has to be a choice. If someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated that shouldn’t hold the rest of the country hostage.”

He said those that might not want to get the jab could potentially be given the opportunity to “sign and decline”.

While there is no way to totally eliminate risk, Tibbetts believes that with a large percentage of the population vaccinated and a requirement that arriving visitors are tested and vaccinated, tourism can return this summer.

With most front-facing tourism employees vaccinated, he said the threat of a fresh COVID-19 outbreak would be very slim.

Tourism bosses hope for a return of visitors in the next few months.

Both Tibbetts and Langevin believe a successful high season, staring in November, is possible. But they argue that concrete plans and timelines must start to be put in place now.

“We can’t just flick a switch and reopen,” said Langevin.

He said CITA was involved in a working group under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism with key government agencies, including the Health Services Authority, Cayman Airways, Transportation Board, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and WORC.

The logistics of reopening, the timing of plane arrivals and safety protocols at the airport, are among the practicalities to be hammered out.

Then there is the thorny issue of recruitment, including training local talents and the likely need for work permits.

Based on a survey of five hotels, 28 restaurants, 13 watersports businesses and 8 retail outlets, CITA estimates a minimum of 2,000 new workers will be needed.

While there are around 3,000 displaced local workers on a government stipend, Langevin estimates that figure includes between 1,000 to 2,000 people who are already in the industry. He said there were many people working reduced hours, or who had been temporarily laid off, who would be brought back to work when visitors return.

He added that some people could be retrained from other industries, but suggested the workforce dynamics of Cayman’s tourism industry had not been substantially altered by the pandemic. If anything, he said, there was less interest in tourism as a career.

Initiatives like the Marriott’s front office training program has attracted new local talent but work permits will still be needed, tourism leaders say.

“We are bringing new people into the industry but it is ones and twos. Nothing has changed in the last 12 months that means significantly more people want to work in our industry.

“We are looking for servers right now and we are not finding people.”

Langevin said the employment issue needed to be “depoliticised” because hotels and restaurants would need the co-operation of WORC and immigration officials to ramp up their staff ahead of reopening.

He said businesses needed all the support they could get to get through to reopening and beyond.

“Everybody is losing money right now, everybody is holding on with the hope of a reopening.”

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  1. The only way to get the unvaccinated people to get the vaccine is to tell them that if they get covid and need medical care it is not covered by insurance. Besides causing a problem for everyone who wants to come to the island and everyone who wants to get a job in the tourism sector it is costing everyone on the island medical.
    Why should someone who got the vaccine money in health insurance to cover those who refuse to be vaccinated???

  2. Vaccination passports equal US dollars flowing to places that only require a negative covid test. Clearly 50% or more US citizens will not get the vaccine. Whether that’s right or wrong doesn’t matter but the dollars from those people will go on holiday somewhere else. I’m sorry to say as we love Cayman!!!

    • Over 50% of US residents have received at least 1 shot so far. It is estimated that 75% will get vaccinated and 25% will refuse. Those who refuse can stay home. Open up – but only allow vaccinated tourists in

      • There are other countries that allow admission with negative PCR or positive antigen test before arrival and temperature check and/or PCR rapid test at airport upon arrival. Yes, encourage vaccinations by making arrival processing quicker/easier for those who are vaccinated, but don’t arbitrarily exclude those who have COVID immunity through prior exposure or can provide testing documentation that they are COVID free.

  3. BVI plans on a re-open June 1. Others are open. It’s time. There’s a point to where the government is doing a dis-service to the island by staying closed. If certain people don’t want to take the vaccine, they are putting themselves at risk. That’s their decision.

  4. It’s time for Cayman to open to vaccinated tourists. If certain people in Cayman refuse to get the vaccine then that is a risk and personal choice they are making for themselves. Cayman has enough vaccine for everyone now that wants it. The boarders should not stay closed because some residents are willing to take the risk.

  5. Cayman keeps resetting the goal post. Every tourist has cancelled their vacations for this year already. With kids not able to get the vaccine tourists will not be able to come this summer. I used to have a 90 percent occupancy rate. The whole year of 2021 reservations have already been wiped out.

    • So is there definitely no chance of vaccinated parents traveling w/ an unvaccinated kid (because he’s too young to be eligible) even if he has a negative covid test?
      Just trying to figure out if we should cancel our late June booking now. From what you say, it sounds like we should cancel 🙁

  6. The island of Kauai has successfully reopened using their safe travels program. The island is larger area wise and population but that have been successful and have eliminated the quarantine requirement for vaccinated and COVID 19 tested tourists

  7. Mr Langevin is strictly driven by revenue . The safety and concern for residents of Cayman are never of consideration. Shame on him!!!

    People who talk about other islands opening, please go there. If you follow the news early openings by BVIs and Bermuda have not proven successful as they are now seeing a second surge of covid forcing more shutdowns.

    The Cayman government officials are doing what is right for their people so please stop with the impatient rhetoric and harassment.

    The Cayman islands will always be there for your enjoyment in the future. In the meantime stop the selfishness and think about others, rather than yourselves.