Source: Travel Pulse
Following nearly a decade under a pro-tourism government that supported a now-scuttled plan to build a multi-million dollar cruise ship terminal, Cayman Islands residents in April elected a new premier, Wayne Panton, to succeed Alden Mclaughlin in the British Overseas Territory.
Panton in turn named Kenneth Bryan the country’s new tourism and transport minister, ending the long tenure of Moses Kirkconnell, among the region’s most respected leaders in the role.
While the Cayman Islands has achieved significant tourism growth in the last decade, Cayman is among many Caribbean nations challenged to sustain its land-based and cruise ship tourism following the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges.
TravelPulse talked with Bryan this past week to gauge his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities the territory faces as it reopens to international tourism.
TP: Can you describe the territory’s policies and approach following the pandemic outbreak?
KB: Cayman is in a unique position where our finances -financial services is our number one pillar and thankfully that was not harmed in any way – so although we lost some revenue, we were OK to keep going. I know our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean are not equipped in that respect and their dependence on tourism is a lot higher than ours.
We were lucky enough to make some decisions after waiting to see how the global aspect of the pandemic would pan out. We want to prioritize keeping safe. Because you can’t truly enjoy an experience if your brain is worried about safety. When you’re on vacation you want to be worry-free. If you’re not worry-free then you’re not happy on vacation. So that has been our key focus.
TP: What has the government done to sustain tourism providers during this period of inactivity?
KB: We’ve been able to assist many of our tourism stakeholders in a number of ways. We give employees who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic close to $2,000 a month throughout this period. For businesses, we are giving them grants of close to $42,000. There are a number of other programs for restauranteurs. We’re using a number of strategies to maintain what we have locally while we are closed, incentivized by giving folks money to make it through with their bills.
TP: How is the Cayman Islands addressing the eventual reopening to international visitors?
KB: We eventually have to reopen. The world wants us to reopen. We want to make sure it is done systematically. We have five phases in our plan, we are in phase two and hopefully nothing conspires against our plan.
We want to get to stages four and five where the influx of most tourists is focused. Right now, travel is restricted to local residents, people who have to travel for medical reasons and business travel.
TP: How will the initial reopening proceed according to the government’s plan?
KB: We will still have a quarantine period from September 9 to October 14, which allows us to admit a small percentage of tourists while we are assessing our systems. The average quarantine in the Caribbean is five days, so call it five or six days on average.
We think that our condo market will reap some benefits. Travelers can stay in a beautiful beachfront villa with their families [and] they don’t have to go anywhere; food will be delivered to them. At the end of day five, [travelers] will be able to go out and enjoy island activities. After October 14, any person who is certified as fully vaccinated can come off the plane and travel about the island and stay in a condo or hotel.
TP: What have you heard from your partner airlines?
KB: Our airlines have told us that with this ‘soft’ reopening, they are able to fly in most of the passengers that care to visit the destination through October. So about a week or so before the full opening in October, you’ll see more flights become available. I expect a lot to happen in that September-October period.
TP: The arrival of your administration coincided with the end of the territory’s plan to build a cruise pier and terminal, an initiative backed by the previous government. Why was this plan ultimately unsuccessful?
KB: As you know there was public opposition to the cruise plan and much of that had to do with the building of a pier. We love our environment; we cherish our environment, which is why we want to focus more on quality than quantity. We know that we are not the only lady on the block, but we know we are the best-looking. We intend to maintain that. So we didn’t want to go with a project that would impact our environment.
We of course intend to welcome cruise tourism back [but] we’re not quite ready yet. The reason we are ready on the ground is we have confidence we can offer, relatively, the same experience for our tourists.
TP: What is the immediate cruise future for the Cayman Islands?
KB: After my recent discussions with the cruise lines some key points came up. Cruise ships often have to stop at other ports before visiting the Cayman Islands. So there are two major hurdles to get over, and I’m glad to say that it appears we have surmounted one hurdle: the ability of the cruise lines to require guests to show proof of vaccination.
The other hurdle is that even if every single person on the ship is vaccinated, they will potentially disembark at ports that have different standards from ours. The protocols that were in place when [guests] got on the ship are out the door. They’ve entered a community where they are potentially exposed to the virus and then they’d come into our territory via the ship.
I’ve examined some options to try to arrive at a solution. The reason cruise lines couldn’t stop at the Cayman Islands first on Caribbean itineraries is fuel cost. So can come up with some sort of intervention or incentive on fuel costs for operators.
We do want cruise and in the end cruise is a key component of our market, [but] we have to be the best at what we are and cruise has to be a niche market.