Even with every Caymanian who has expressed an interest in working in restaurants and hotels taking up a position, there will still be 600-700 jobs that need to be filled in those fields, as the industry gears up to receive growing numbers of visitors, tourism chiefs say.
According to Cayman Islands Tourism Association President Marc Langevin, about 50 Caymanians registered with Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) had indicated they would like to work in the food and beverage and hospitality industries.
This leaves hundreds of jobs that would need to be filled with work permit holders, but work permits were not currently being approved, Langevin said, as he spoke at CITA’s annual general meeting on Tuesday, 30 Nov.
3 main barriers for hospitality industry
The association’s vice president, Michael Tibbetts, owner of the Clearly Cayman dive resorts on all three islands, said there were three main problems facing the hospitality industry in Cayman – COVID-19 regulations that bar unvaccinated children from entering Cayman, air arrival capacity and a lack of staff.
Tibbetts said rules that prevent children that are too young to be vaccinated from coming to Cayman mean that the islands are not attractive as a holiday destination for families of young children.
He added that many businesses are currently operating with a third of the staff that they would need to cater for tourists in their hotels and restaurants, noting that people who had worked in the hospitality industry, whether Caymanians or work permit holders, had settled into other jobs or sought work elsewhere. “It’s not like we can turn a switch and expect people to come back and re-staff our resorts or watersports businesses and restaurants,” he said.
Tibbetts acknowledged that the issue of hiring workers and remobilising the hospitality industry was a “politically sensitive” one, adding that CITA had made it a priority to hire Caymanians, holding job fairs and submitting vacancies to WORC.
Cayman Islands Tourism Association board members, from left, Treasurer Markus Mueri, Vice President Michael Tibbetts and President Marc Langevin, at the association’s annual general meeting on 30 Nov. at the Marriott resort. – Photo: Norma Connolly
Langevin said tourism in Cayman would not return to a substantial level until unvaccinated visitor children were allowed to travel with their parents without quarantine; until the regime of lateral flow testing for visitors was reduced; and until the travel authorisation process was simplified and expedited.
He added, “We will need to address urgently the shortage in tourism workers, especially in food and beverage positions, recreation and diving operations, and getting the support of the WORC and the Cayman Islands government to develop fast track access to work permit to ensure we are not limited in our recovery effort.”
Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan, speaking in Parliament during a budget debate, said he was committed to changing the face of Cayman’s tourism industry by encouraging more Caymanians to get involved and invest in it. He noted that close to 700 Caymanians had upskilled during the lockdown period by participating in one or more of the 50 training courses that government had offered.
Since taking up his role as minister of tourism in April, Bryan has advocated strongly for more Caymanians to be employed in the tourism industry, once the borders reopened.
This chart shows CITA’s forecast of remobilisation needs within its industry over the months.
Tibbetts, speaking at the AGM, said CITA had been prioritising the hiring of Caymanians, but noted that even one type of job in a resort had enough local workers to fill it, there were others, such as dive instructors, servers or cooks, that would also need to be filled before the business could cater to a full capacity of tourists, as “there is this conundrum, that hospitality is a team sport”.
“We have to be able to hire a certain number of work permit holders to be able to get back our island economy,” he said.
Langevin said it did not appear that work permits were currently being processed. “What we are hearing is the boards are not meeting because they are in training,” he said. “In the meantime, the clock is ticking.”
The CITA president told members that if businesses wanted to be fully staffed by Christmas, “it was too late, because the work permits would have had to be signed a month ago” – taking into account how long it takes a worker from overseas to arrange to come to Cayman, quarantine if necessary, and be on-boarded into the business.
“If we want to be back for an opening in mid-January, it’s too late also because those work permits would have needed to be signed by 28 Nov.,” he said, adding that if a business was aiming to deal with 50% capacity by the US public holiday of President’s Day, on 21 Feb., work permits would have to be approved by 28 Dec.
A spokesperson for WORC confirmed that the figure of 50 Caymanians quoted by CITA refers to individuals who are receiving the tourism stipend and who have registered with the agency as ‘Job Seeker Extended’ clients, who had expressed a desire to work in the fields of food and beverage, culinary and/or as beach and pool attendants.
Showing a PowerPoint slide outlining the current confirmed airline routes, Tibbetts said, at most, air arrivals are currently at about 10% of “normal” capacity, and look likely to only be at 30% by the end of the first quarter of 2022, and 40% by April.
Langevin noted that as flights slowly increase in number, the local population will also be travelling, so it’s not just tourists who will be booking the seats on the limited number of flights.
“It is compounding the problem here. We are certainly hoping to get more flights,” he said.
Displaced tourism worker survey
Earlier this year, the Department of Tourism carried out a detailed survey of people who had lost their jobs in tourism after the borders closed and who were receiving the stipend. Tourism Minister Bryan said at the time that the survey aimed to provide information to help guide the work of a Remobilisation Committee to get displaced tourism workers back into the industry and find jobs for Caymanians interested or qualified to break into the tourism field.
At the time, 3,398 people were receiving the monthly $1,500 stipend, at a cost of $5 million a month to government.
The survey indicated that 49% of respondents were not currently working, with the vast majority of those stating the stipend was their only source of income. Of the 51% who described themselves as employed, 74%, or 1,158 people, were considered underemployed and were working fewer than 30 hours a week, while 13% were in full employment.
Of the 3,107 people who responded to the question of whether they would like to return to the same job in tourism that they held before the pandemic, 87% said they would.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.