The Cayman Islands Tourism Association, while welcoming the government’s announcement of a border reopening plan, has raised concerns with a number of elements involved, including the timeline and a lack of consultation with the private sector.

CITA president Marc Langevin said, now that the long-awaited reopening plan had been announced, the tourism industry could begin making its own plans for how to welcome visitors back on island, and start working on staffing and supplies arrangements.

Marc Langevin, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association

“We are certainly happy we finally have a plan. There is no question about that. We have been waiting 15 months to hear about that plan. We appreciate that the government is adopting a phased approach, it is the only way to do it,” he told the Compass in a phone interview.

“On the disappointing side, the government did not consult CITA or anyone in the private sector on development of the reopening plan. They denied themselves the benefit of understanding some of the practical impacts on our businesses and on our employees and their families. With a little collaboration, we could have identified some creative alternatives,” he said, adding that it appeared the government was working “in a silo”.

80% vaccination rate

One of the biggest concerns, Langevin said CITA members had, was whether the government would be able to reach its target of vaccinating 80% of the population, and what contingencies were in place if that target could not be reached, within the proposed timeline of the five-phase plan.

To reach the 80% target, 56,880 people would need to be fully vaccinated before the borders could reopen. As of Monday, 13 July, 45,732 people – or 64% of the estimated 71,100 population – had received both doses of the vaccine.

Describing the government’s vaccination threshold as “not realistic” – as it relies on more than 90% of the eligible population taking the vaccine – Langevin said there would always be a proportion of the population who, for various reasons, would opt not to get inoculated.

Noting that Phase 3 of the reopening plan, which would come into effect on 9 Sept. and which involves the introduction of a limited number of tourists to the islands, was contingent on Cayman reaching the 80% vaccination target, he said, “We cannot be held hostage by those people who refuse to be vaccinated.”

He called on the government to let the public know what additional steps are being taken to ensure the 80% target is reached, pointing out that major efforts had been made in May and June to inoculate people, but the number of vaccinations being given daily now had slowed down considerably.

Between 8 May and 9 June, the government undertook a concerted campaign to encourage people to get inoculated, in a bid to use up all the vaccines on island as they neared their expiration date. That effort included entry into a draw in which 150 prizes were given away. During the ‘Vaccine Challenge’, 14,375 people were vaccinated, according to Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan.

Since 17 June, after a fresh batch of vaccines arrived on island and the vaccination clinics resumed operation, 7,922 shots have been administered.

Langevin said people holding out on getting vaccinated should not be the determining factor in reopening the borders, and urged government to have an alternative plan on hand, such as mandating vaccinations for workers in certain industries, like those working at the airport and other frontline staff.

Timeline concerns

CITA also suggested that each step in the government’s phased plan could be brought forward a month, to give tourism businesses and public sector agencies time to prepare before an influx of tourists arrive.

Langevin said the points in the timeline where more tourists will be allowed to enter Cayman coincide with times when traditionally large numbers of visitors come here, for example, over Thanksgiving or Christmas. He suggested that these measures could be implemented earlier, so that government agencies like Travel Cayman and Customs and Border Control, as well as the tourism industry, could have time to build up to the increase in tourists, rather than having to deal with suddenly being inundated with visitors.

For instance, Langevin said, Phase 5 of the plan, which comes into effect on 18 Nov., is due to be implemented just a week before Thanksgiving, when many US families usually would be planning on visiting Cayman. Under this phase, unvaccinated children under the age of 12 can accompany vaccinated parents and would not be required to quarantine.

If this phase was implemented in October, he said, it would give hotels more breathing space to ensure they were ready to deal with the increased numbers and would mean they had a month to get ready for the Thanksgiving rush, rather than just a week.

He added that CITA felt the timeline, which concludes with a decision in January as to whether quarantines and testing could be eliminated and cruise visits reintroduced, was “backloaded”, moving too slowly in the first few months and too quickly in the last two.

He asked why the government is waiting until Phase 2 on 9 Aug. to get rid of the requirement for vaccinated travellers in five-day quarantine to wear GPS wristbands, when such a change could be implemented immediately, thus reducing the resources needed to monitor those in quarantine.

“There are over 1,000 people in isolation. It takes a lot of people to continuously monitor and check them,” he said.

Addressing Phase 4, due to be implemented on 14 Oct. and which involves an increase in incoming tourist numbers, Langevin said, at that point, the demand for US tourists to travel overseas would already be rising as temperatures drop in the northern states. “Why not move that phase to September?” he asked. “September is a ‘soft’ month. … We will be able to better control the situation.”

Remobilisation of tourism industry

Since Cayman closed its borders in March last year, thousands of workers have lost their jobs in the tourism industry. Many left Cayman or moved into other sectors or are relying on government stipends to survive.

Once the borders reopen and the tourists start flocking back to the local beaches and dive sites, staff will need to be on hand in the hotels, condos, restaurants and watersports operations to serve them. This will mean the remobilisation of thousands of returning or newly-hired workers.

Langevin said the tourism industry is making a concerted effort to hire as many Caymanians as possible for those jobs, but overseas workers will also need to be hired to fill the many vacancies available.

He added that the remobilisation and recovery of the industry went hand-in-hand with the reopening plan, as it was vital that there were enough staff available to serve the number of tourists returning to Cayman.

“Those things need to be addressed simultaneously. It’s not a matter of one after the other, they must be approached together when it comes to reopening,” Langevin said.

Despite the misgivings about certain elements of the government’s approach to the reopening of the borders, Langevin said, “We welcome the fact that there is a plan. Now we have a vision and with vision, comes hope.”

He acknowledged that some operators, who have had to take out small-business loans to survive over the last year and a half, do not have enough resources to hire people at the moment and will have to wait until revenue starts coming in from the returning tourists.

“People are making plans for recruitment, though some will not recruit yet. Some operators will decide not to hire right now and deal with what they can handle as a business,” Langevin said.

He said the issue of bringing in overseas staff was a problem across the Caribbean tourism industry, due to a lack of flights worldwide.

“People are coming back and there aren’t enough employees to take care of the customers. It’s a delicate decision that every hotel and private business and boat operator is going to have to gamble on,” he said.

See the government’s reopening plan here.

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  1. The tourism people are right, of course. When you look at the plan it is obvious that the government didn’t consult anyone in the tourism industry, or frankly anyone outside of government. They should have consulted a few people in the tourism industry, some property owners from the US and other countries, and other parties who just simply want to come back and sit on the beach for a week. Like me. How hard would that have been?

    Not accepting the US cards is so stupid it makes my head hurt. There are zero people faking vaccination cards to go on a super expensive vacation. On top of that, who cares? By this time, everyone has made their choice. Either they are vaccinated, or they aren’t.

    Instead, we have this convoluted plan that basically lets the unvaccinated population hold the rest of the island AND other international travelers hostage, and backloads the plan so even if the goals are all met, the resorts, restaurants and hotels would be hopelessly understaffed and would make for some not so great vacations.

    So, either the government is completely inept (possible) and doesn’t really believe in the science (or doesn’t care) or they simply hate the tourism industry. At this point there really aren’t too many other explanations for this.

    I live in the US, and am vaccinated and just made my plans for holiday on a different island. We may come back to Cayman someday, but maybe not.

  2. “Once the borders reopen and the tourists start flocking back”

    I agree with your frustration and that they seem to be operating in a bubble but respectably there is a 10 day (really 12) quarantine for all Americans throughout the phase-in plan. So, as long as there is a quarantine requirement there will be no “flocking back”. And as long as CI carries on with their “verification” obsession your only tourist market (5% approx) at the moment is CI, GB and possibly the EU.

  3. You just can’t turn the faucet on and its back to normal! In the US in Pennsylvania we have labor shortages here as many people decided to leave the service industry. Many of our restaurants have suffered a worker shortage. They have limited menus, early closings etc. The longer the businesses are closed the harder it is to reopen. I really feel badly for the owners of the restaurants as well as the small businesses that support the tourism.

  4. Here’s an interesting statistic according to Reuters:

    “During the last week reported, Cayman Islands averaged about 93 doses administered each day. At that rate, it will take a further 140 days to administer enough doses for another 10% of the population.”

    And according to the CIG you need 16% more people vaccinated. It’s going to be a long road.

  5. Langevin needs to watch the US news. The Delta varient is taking over across the country due to younger people and others refusal to vaccinate. Bringing families to Cayman over Thanksgiving with unvaccinated children would be the nail in your coffin.

    Langevin is looking solely, and selfishly, at revenue. You see what that greed is currently doing to the island as a whole – ruining what was once a gorgeous, charming and pristine environment that is now becoming a cement city along the beach like Waikiki. Please stop the greed and put the Caymanian peoples safety first!!!

  6. 1. They need to vaccinate ALL work-permit holders
    2. CNN yesterday reported a surge in COVID cases in the USA, most are of the Delta variant which is more transmissable. We cannot let people from the USA in yet. Cases in Canada continue to decline. Maybe they should consider only allowing planes from Canada or other countries where COVID is under control. There are enough Canadians wanting to come to Cayman to give their suggested “soft opening.”

  7. For years my wife and I usually enjoy January and February at a beach cottage in Grand Cayman. Last year Covid Crises interrupted that privilege. We have long been anticipating a return to your island; but your reopening dates for a fully vaccinated U.S. citizen is a month too late for Doc and Gloria. Your government’s assigned monthly phases for reopening are the months of: August, September, October, November and January. What happened to DECEMBER? We are going to loose our cottage reservation unless you can find a method to verify our completely legal COVID-19 Vaccination Record from the CDC of the United States. Our two-dose series of the Pfizer vaccine was administered on 14 January and 04 February of 2021; lot numbers of the vaccines which were used have been recorded on this document. Our expectations for next year were to enjoy all the amenities of your island and not just to confines of our cottage for the initial 10 days of our stay. Would there be an opportunity to send our documentation to the Cayman governmental agencies months ahead of time for an individual verification of the required vaccination? If not possible, would your government consider moving the WELCOME BACK Summary to some December date if you were able to initiate a plan to fast track the remaining vaccinations for those last 16% of your Cayman residents? Michigan along with other U.S. States have implemented a Lottery Drawing for those who obtain the Covid vaccine; which has stimulated the undecided residents. Our Lottery Drawings will includes all those who vaccinate before a set date. Something to consider. Doc

  8. I see they eliminated the “up/down” system to rate the comments. Pity, that. I think I know why.

    Sandra – it really is this simple. If you are vaccinated, why do you care? If you are not vaccinated, why do you care?

    What difference does it make if they only allow vaccinated people in, say, in October, but fully open up to everyone in January, per the plan?

    To suggest that a plane of vaccinated Canadians is in any way, shape or form different than a plane full of vaccinated Americans is ludicrous and hilarious.

  9. Putting Caymanians first? I just talked to a Caymanian friend who worked in the tourism industry. Here are the “statistics” ….3 months behind in rent (landlord getting restless), behind in electric and water bills, savings gone and 2 kids to feed. $1500 stipend doesn’t go very far. Is that putting Caymanians first?

  10. Many great points here and so important for government and private industry to work together! We have our annual vaca booked for the 2 week Christmas-New Years. I am fortunate to be in a state (Maryland) where the COVID rates have dropped below 1%. Our family is fully vaccinated and have gotten digital cards with barcodes, dates, pictures and contact info…looks pretty darn legit.

    I agree that who wants to risk your family’s health or the health of others by faking jabs, so there should be no issue in accepting what looks like a pretty legitimate physical or digital vax card regardless of the US state issuance.

    One other thing that has not been brought up here nor on other articles is the cost of airfare. As long as Cayman is not submitting a solid opening plan, airlines are playing a guessing game with pricing nearly double and triple of the norm. A flight from DC is now averaging $1000/RT (our average over the years $500/RT). I was fortunate in booking Southwest flights when their winter schedule opened and got an excellent deal which closed the next day and now their flights are $1,200/RT. If I had to pay this amount for 4 travelers, then the Caymans would have been out this year. Many other travelers may also be considering this, so sooner the better to get some airline competition going.

    And if we have to quarantine even with full vaccinations and negative tests…we are not coming…

  11. The Premier needs to change his advisors. The unintended consequences of these decisions will be felt for years as US Tourism anger grows. A simple calculation of first time vaccine shots are running only 45 a day since July 1. Assuming we MUST vaccinate 56,880 people to get to 80% ; with approximately 45,691 fully vaccinated; then it will take more than 200 days to get to 80%. This was due to fail from the beginning.
    Regarding the discrimination against US Vaccinated tourist; the FBI has not reported a single arrest of anyone using a forged US vaccination card to gain access.

  12. The shuttering of borders affords a unique opportunity to reassess what sort of tourism we want. In today’s WSJ, for example, Venice Italy is saying “NO” to the big tubs of huge volume, low margin tourists.
    Once we sell out to the backpacker/airbnb/daytripper crowds, the quality will never come back. Let’s consider keeping our standards higher than others and go for the lower volume, high-dollar tourists.

  13. Their plan is completely unrealistic. The comments from Langevin are spot-on.
    Sadly, this is a mess that is going to be even worse if they do this ridiculous slow dance to reopen.
    All the while, we see pain among the residents of Cayman and those who wish to visit Cayman. It seems that the government is trying to save residents who don’t want to be saved. Will they wait forever if 80% of the population doesn’t get vaccinated? So short-sighted and poorly imagined on the part of the government.

  14. You know the US just had a president who kept saying “America first” and it ended up making America last. So when I hear we are “putting cayman first” what I really hear is a bunch of irresponsible politicians who don’t understand the issue or what they are doing. They aren’t follow science, they aren’t engaging the public, and they aren’t consulting the business community. This has to stop.