Just days ahead of the much-anticipated Phase 4 of Cayman Islands’ reopening plan on November 20, business leaders across multiple industries continue to clamor for a full reopening of its borders for fear of long-term damage to people’s livelihood and to the local economy on the whole.
The “Reopen Cayman” initiative, which made news last October, is spearheaded by private business owners who have bravely shouldered the negative impacts of the country’s extended closure on their establishments and personnel. While many of them agree that the government has done all it could to abate the spread of the virus in the country, they also believe that Covid-19 won’t be going anywhere soon and it wouldn’t make much of a difference whether the borders are reopened now or a few months later.
Phase 4 signals a reduction in quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers. The next phase, which allows unvaccinated children to enter, is targeted for January 2022. However, there is no date set for the final phase — or full reopening of borders — in which all travelers may enter without restrictions.
Hopeful but realistic
ERA Cayman Islands broker Robert G. Totten — who has been a key player in the local real estate, construction, and property development industries for over four decades — describes how the extended lockdown has affected the real estate industry.
“The overall real estate industry shifted from an intense second home overseas market to a local buying market,” he observes. “Those overseas buyers who had been sitting on the fence on whether to buy in the past or not decided to buy while the pandemic had them confined.”
While he and other real estate professionals remain optimistic, they are also well aware of realities in the global economy. “We don’t expect too many new buyers at this point and a lot is due to the overall financial status of the countries from which international clients usually come from, like the United States. With higher taxes and runaway inflation, potential overseas buyers might want to hold on to their cash for better times.”
Robert emphasizes that the delays in reopening the island have imposed a huge burden on the local business community — not just in real estate but on basically every industry on the island. Companies have kept holding on, thinking that maybe the next month will be better or maybe the month after that — a seemingly interminable wait that comes with dire consequences.
“In the real estate industry, for instance, many agents have had pending deals where purchasers were already pre-approved for financing at the early stages of the pandemic. But as time went on, so many people lost their jobs and the pre-approval of financing had been withdrawn.”
“Potential buyers also had to withdraw their offer to purchase, resulting in the owners losing out on sales, as well as real estate agents losing their commissions. As a result, some owners ended up not making their own mortgage payments — especially if they lost their job as well — and the banks took over their properties. Listings went up slightly but no one could qualify for loans with this issue of the unknown hanging over everyone’s heads.”
Just hanging by a thread
Having lived and worked in the Cayman Islands with his family for over four decades, Robert has witnessed and admired the creativity and resilience of Caymanian business owners who have audaciously overcome a variety of challenges through the years, whether they be natural or man-made.
However, the protracted impacts of the global pandemic on its major industries, as well as government’s hesitation to reopen the country’s borders have continued to painfully bleed out local businesses with no foreseeable end in sight.
He laments the irretrievable losses of fellow business owners, especially those whose livelihoods hang by a fragile thread.
“Most smaller businesses have long since closed for good,” he says. “Those lucky enough to hold on have mostly consumed all their life savings to remain open. If the island does not fully open up by the end of January 2022, a lot of those who have been hanging on might just put out the closed sign for good.”
Is there really a “right time”?
Given the varying — and often conflicting opinions — on the pros and cons of reopening borders while the pandemic is far from over on a global scale, Robert echoes the general sentiment of business and industry leaders who would like to see Cayman welcome back international travelers with the least possible restrictions but without compromising the wellbeing of the community at large.
“The government — along with the public — have to be educated on the facts regarding the pandemic,” he points out. “They need to base decisions on available data from around the world that are proven by science and endorsed by reliable professional health experts.”
Moreover, he points out that individuals play as much an important role in protecting the community as the government. People need to understand that their personal lifestyle choices would invariably affect the collective in the long run.
“The local population has too many underlying conditions — as do most places in the world today. If anything comes out of this pandemic crisis, it is that everyone should take better care of their health. Bad habits need to be changed for the better.”
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