(CAYMAN COMPASS) — Cayman’s closure of its borders has sent the tourism industry into “free fall,” according to Premier Alden McLaughlin, who said at a press conference Monday that it is now up to the financial services industry to see the country through the upcoming months.
The premier’s statement comes as Cayman introduced restrictions on the size of public gatherings and banned international flights and cruise ships coming to the island.
The air-traffic closure measures will start from 11:59pm on Sunday, 22 March, and covers both the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman and the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac. McLaughlin said, with those restrictions, now more than ever, the financial services industry is needed and he believes it is in a position to see the country through the anticipated hard times ahead.
“The financial services industry is in really, really good shape,” he said, based on “extensive” discussions with Cayman Finance.
McLaughlin said he was told companies within the industry have sent staff home and they have been able to work remotely.
“Financial services is even more important now than it was because the tourism industry, at least for the time being, has collapsed and so we need to ensure that they [financial services staff] stay healthy and they stay strong and continue to provide business as usual; perhaps I shouldn’t say business as usual, but business as unusual,” he said.
All areas of the industry, he said, have supported the measures that the government has put in place.
“I think, collectively, we are all of the view that if Cayman can come through this with minimal loss of life and without too many people becoming sick and certainly not having the sort of meltdowns we are seeing in other parts of the world, when the crisis is over, we will be very well placed to get back into the business faster than most other places, and that’s what we are aiming to do,” the premier said.
The coronavirus situation, he said, has thrown the tourism industry into “crisis” as, by Monday, hospitality workers already were being dismissed and bookings had been cancelled.
“The tourism industry has absolutely collapsed,” he said.
He said, within a week, The Ritz-Carlton went from being fully booked to having under 50% reservations.
“I think whether the airport was closed or not, you wouldn’t have many tourists continuing to come here, and this is not just true for Cayman, this is true for all over the world,” he said.
On Tuesday, several hotels announced that they would close temporarily from Sunday.
There have been reports to the Cayman Compass that some tourists are not being refunded their deposits.
The premier said visitors have been emailing him directly on the issue as well. “My strong advice to the hospitality industry is to refund those deposits,” he said.
“This crisis will not last forever; we want that business to return to Cayman. We want people to feel good about the Cayman Islands, on the way we treat people, that’s what Caymankind is about… refund the deposits,” he said.
With many employees having to resort to working from home, concerns about the communication capacity of local telecom providers has also come into question. The premier said that topic was discussed and “the telecom providers are confident they will be able to cope”.
With the downturn in the economy and many facing joblessness, an uptick in crime is a concern and Governor Martyn Roper said it is an issue being discussed.
“It is something we are thinking actively about and discussing contingency planning arrangements with the commissioner of police,” Roper said.
He also said officers from the new Cayman Islands Regiment have been deployed to support staff in Hazard Management Cayman Islands.
The officers recently returned from training in Bermuda, according to a government statement Tuesday. They are assisting with logistical planning and support.
“Although the COVID-19 emergency has come before we have been able to recruit reservists for the Cayman Regiment, it is great that the officers that were recently trained in Bermuda are able to support the planning work that is going on,” Roper said in the statement.
Plans are also being drawn up to bring forward the recruitment of the first 50 volunteer reservists for the Regiment.