Tourism businesses: ‘We are casualties, not villains’

Companies consider closure amid border uncertainty

Marc Langevin and Theresa Leacock-Broderick address business owners at the Marriott Friday morning.

Tourism business owners are contemplating whether to shut their doors in the face of continued uncertainty over the future of the industry.

“Why should we stay open now? Why should we bother?” Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers questioned during an emergency meeting of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Friday morning.

“How long can we suck it up and carry on? Should we just close up until there is a date and a plan?”

CITA leaders spelled out the reality facing the industry, projecting low occupancy through the end of 2022 — even if Cayman opens in January.

Association president Marc Langevin said it would be up to each business to do their projections and see if they could hang on. He said CITA would push for a firm reopening date, so that visitors could book vacations for next year with confidence.

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“We know Christmas is gone. Say goodbye to Christmas,” he told a crowd of around 100 business owners at the Marriott, with more watching on Zoom. “But we can rebuild from that if we have a date.”

Langevin emphasised that a firm, non-negotiable reopening date — accompanied by a plan to manage the logistics of COVID outbreaks — was the number one wish for the industry.

Several tourism leaders suggested Cayman now faces a long, slow road to win back the trust of airline partners, booking agents and repeat guests. CITA estimates that it will take at least five years to build back the island’s customer base.

Theresa Leacock-Broderick, immediate past president of the association, warned that some loyal Cayman visitors would now have established new relationships in other destinations.

Facing the potential of a third year of cancellations in Cayman, she said many in the accommodations sector fear permanent damage to their businesses.

She expressed concern that decision-making over the border was being driven by  “hysteria”, rather than science and data. With or without tourism, she said Cayman would have to learn to live with COVID in the community.

‘We are casualties’

Leacock-Broderick said tourism businesses — many of them multi-generational Caymanian family businesses — had borne the brunt of the impact of the pandemic and border closure.

“In tourism, we have been the villains because we have been begging for the opportunity to go out and make a living,” she said.

Theresa Leacock-Broderick

“We haven’t been begging for handouts; we have been saying just give us the chance to make a living again.

“We are casualties, we are not villains. We are casualties.”

Leacock-Broderick added that business owners could be entitled to compensation because the right to earn a livelihood had been removed.

“I have numerous members of my family that depend on tourism — we are not begging any more, we are not being greedy — we have to survive,” she said.

Cancellations flood in

Markus Mueri, owner of NM Ventures restaurant group, which includes Abacus and Karoo, highlighted some of the impact on the industry, saying cancellations of bookings had begun almost immediately after Tuesday’s announcement.

“It is tough. It has been tough up to now and now it gets even harder,” said Mueri, highlighting the impact on local trade and Christmas parties.

Juliet Cumber-Forget, owner of Cayman Villas, said her inbox had been flooded with cancellation emails since Tuesday. She said the the failure to remove quarantine was a “deal-breaker” for overseas guests — even those who own property — and every booking, other than a handful of staycations, had been cancelled through the end of January.

She said she was running the business at a loss and, like many in the sector, was struggling to keep her few remaining staff on the payroll.

“It’s a very scary time for tourism employers right now,” she said, in a separate interview with the Cayman Compass. “Many of us don’t want to think about the ‘what if’, because the next phase for us could potentially be to let our remaining staff go, close up shop completely and look for another job ourselves,” she added.

“With the stark realisation that we are going to have another winter season with no tourists, this is looking like the only option for many businesses that simply do not have enough resources to ‘hang on’ any longer.”

She said the condos and villas sector generates 70% of its total revenue during the winter season and typically guests book 3-6 months in advance, meaning there would be a time lag for any possible recovery to kick in after an opening date is confirmed.

Speaking at Friday’s meeting, Langevin said every business faced the same problem to some degree. Without clarity over the opening date, he said guests would not book. The loss of the high season, he emphasised, impacts the whole of 2022 and has repercussions for the ability of businesses to maintain current staffing levels, let alone proceed with plans to rehire unemployed workers.

There remain concerns — even after reopening — about the vaccination verification process, which currently excludes many US states.

Prior to this week’s announcement, Leacock-Broderick said that was the key concern for the industry and was fuelling cancellations.

“Even if we reopened, we were still not going to get enough visitors coming to the island unless we found an alternative [to the current vaccination verification scheme],” she said.

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  1. This is all very true and very sad. We have lost the trust of visitors and airlines. It will take years to regain that trust.

    I also expect we will see many properties going up for sale. Vacation rental owners can’t continue to pay strata fees and mortgages when they have no rental income. Of course, there are a select few who have the means to make these payments without a second thought but I believe they are not in the majority. Those depending on rental income to offset some of the expense of property ownership are faced with difficult decisions. And even worse are the owners who will stop paying strata fees all together. There is no real legislation to enforce those payments, and some struggling folks will simply forgo those payments and at some point when they sell the payments will be taken out of their profit. It’s a big ‘ole mess,

    • We all went through this same situation with Hurricane Ivan. It took 2 years to recover and though there were other Islands not hit by the Hurricane for tourists to visit, there still remained some true to Cayman that came back after we reopened. But the key point is that no one should buy property in Cayman strictly as “investment” because these natural disasters will always occur, Covid included.

      What will ultimately affect the tourism in Cayman is how it is changing for the worse, never mind Covid restrictions. The “charm” of the laid back Island feel; calypso music playing as we’d walk the beach in the evenings; no light pollution as we’d watch the stars falling from the sky while sitting on the beach at night; no safety concerns whatsoever when out at night; no concerns over belongings being stolen from beach chairs; dancing at Royal Palms until the wee hours…all of that is completely gone now and has been replaced by Darts high end, Miami Beach glitz and glam nonsense. Brought in with that is theft, crime, rape…that is not the Cayman I once knew! If people want that environment they can go to Miami, Hawaii, California etc.

      So, taking away the feeling of safety and the true Island experience is what will eventually be the demise of Cayman, not Covid restrictions. Stop the overbuilding, stop with the monstrosity condominiums on 7 mile beach, stop closing down the charming small, locally owned Caymanian establishments, encourage divers to return who no longer feel welcome at places other than Sunset House and stop with the high end restaurants/shops/and condos.

      If you recall TCIs have been mentioned over and over in these posts. Perhaps some of the tourism industry personnel should take a trip to Turks and see how “behind” it is compared to Cayman, yet everyone talks about how much they “love it, won’t be returning to Cayman”. I’d say it’s time to pay attention and learn!!!

  2. I can agree with Ms. Leacock’s words that with or without Tourism we’ll have to learn to live with Corona but I think we should learn to live with it and learn how to deal with it before we reintroduce large scale tourism given that community transmission
    Is something completely new to us and we therefore have no experience in dealing with it at this level. Let’s not play heroes with something that we know so very little about but let’s see if we can learn to live with it before we reintroduce Tourism as this could become chaotic and unforeseen circumstances could arise that we may not be capable of handling . The book of Proverbs says ” A wise man ponders his steps”

  3. I agree we need our borders open but we are presently faced with community transmission at a level which is completely new to us, therefore I think it would be wise for the Government, frontline workers and all citizens to get adjusted and familiarized in living with the situation before we reintroduce large scale Tourism . Given the fact that we’ve seen a number of breaches I really believe those numbers will increase with the opening of the borders unless we could guarantee a much larger electronic monitoring program. The book of Proverbs says “a wise man ponders his steps “

  4. When considering your Vaccination Verification process, please don’t forget about Canada, whom never seem to get a mention in these articles.

    Both Air Canada and Westjet operate 3 flights weekly to Grand Cayman during high season.