The Westin resort on Seven Mile Beach is preparing to reopen for staycations from June.
The hotel has been closed since Cayman shut its borders and went into lockdown as COVID-19 arrived on these shores in March last year.
At the time the closure was announced, it was expected that it would involve “30 days of suspended operations”, hotel manager Jim Mauer said.
As of now, it has been 13 months and four days.
“None of us knew it would go on for this long,” he told the Cayman Compass.
“Hotels aren’t supposed to be closed,” he said. “We opened in 1994 and the goal was always to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“This has been unprecedented for us and for the whole industry, but everything that has a beginning has an end.”
The hotel is targeting the school summer holidays in Cayman for the staycation market.
Mauer hopes this will be the beginning of a slow and steady rebuild of the resort’s staff and operations ahead of a safe reopening of the island to international tourists, potentially later this year.
“We want to reopen in a phased approach, initially for the local community. We want to be safe and we support what the government has done in terms of the vaccination programme,” he said.
“We believe we can get to 80% [vaccination rate for Cayman], and with the US vaccination rate increasing, we have to believe that something is on the horizon.”
He said the Westin had been able to keep all its staff paid through the end of 2020, despite being closed to visitors. There were lay-offs at the end of the calendar year as the virus continued to impact global travel.
The hotel’s Tortuga pool bar and grill remained operational, and open-air movie nights and other events kept a trickle of business coming in.
A core staff was retained to keep the property in shape. Mauer said running the hotel and ensuring the assets were preserved involved significant work, even with no guests.
He hopes to bring back more staff as local guests return from 9 June, and ramp up further with the hoped-for return of visitors later this year.
He said the Westin had initially stayed out of the staycation business, choosing instead to do some work on the hotel.
The pool area has been renovated and the Cayman Coffee café and market place has been expanded.
The resort was about to open a new sushi and seafood restaurant, Woto, when the pandemic struck.
That will now launch in June, with the Catboat bar, Hibiscus Spa and Sunday brunch all relaunching at the same time.
Mauer said he hoped it was the beginning of the end for a bleak period for Cayman’s tourism industry.
“This is about local customers first and foremost, with the hope of building towards a safe reopening,” he said.
He emphasised that the Westin was happy with the government’s measures so far and supported a cautious approach to any reintroduction of tourism.
And he said he was confident that Cayman would bounce back as the destination of choice for discerning travellers in the region.
“Based on what we are seeing, we will have a V-shaped recovery,” he said. “There is a lot of pent-up demand and it is quite possible that 2022 could be a very healthy year for the Cayman Islands.”