In a radio interview on Friday, 3 Sept., Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan addressed fears that a border reopening may represent too big a public health risk, stressing those concerns must be weighed against the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19.
Speaking on the Cayman Crosstalk show last week, Bryan said health concerns must be balanced against economic consequences, given that there is no end in sight to the pandemic.
Considering tourism sector demands for a border reopening, he said it is hard to tell an industry that represents 20% or more of the economy and employs many Caymanians that their priorities are not important.
Another factor was government’s financial loss caused by the pandemic and the almost complete absence of tourism, he said, noting, “Government continues to lose a lot of money every month.”
Stipend payments amount to close to $6 million each month and Travel Cayman’s budget until the end of the year is more than $10 million.
Together with other additional salary costs, Bryan said government is spending $10 million per month, or $120 million a year, in response to the pandemic on these items alone.
In addition, there are “other ripple effects” in terms of higher cost of living, lower import duties and no revenue from tourism-related fees, such as airport and cruise passenger taxes.
“We used to make $11 million a year from cruise tourism alone,” the tourism minister said.
If the pandemic was only to last another six months, it would not be a problem to stay closed and incur debt to pay for the costs. But if the world must learn to live with COVID, government cannot sustain itself without the necessary revenue, he added.
The question was now whether Cayman could put enough safety mechanisms in place.
The next phase of government’s reopening plan is set to begin on 9 Sept. when the Open Skies agreement takes effect again, allowing airlines to resume unrestricted travel to the islands.
So far, airlines have not seen many bookings for September, because a five-day quarantine for vaccinated travellers is still in effect.
Bryan said demand will only increase in October when more tourists are expected to come to Cayman. On 14 Oct., the mandatory five-day quarantine for vaccinated travellers is set to be abolished. Unvaccinated travellers, however, will continue to have to quarantine for 14 days.
Bryan said government still has to make the decision on whether phase 5 of the reopening plan will be starting in October because of the prerequisite 80% vaccination target for the population.
“So, we have not finalised that yet… it’s fair to say that there’s a high probability that we will move forward with it. But we have to do that last check of what the science says around the risk levels and make that final decision.”