by Brian Major
Last updated: 6:03 PM ET, Wed January 12, 2022
Air Canada's January 5 suspension of flights to 14 Caribbean destinations through April is challenging the Cayman Islands' tourism industry as the island seeks to ignite a slow rebound from the 2020 pandemic travel shutdown.
Beginning January 24, Air Canada is suspending flights to Antigua, Aruba, Curaçao, Exuma in The Bahamas, Grenada, Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo and Samaná in the Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Havana, Cuba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Under the changes, the carrier's Air Canada Rouge fleet is suspending service to Grand Cayman from January 24 through April 30. The airline had only resumed flights to the Cayman Islands in December, operating two weekly flights between Grand Cayman and Toronto on its Air Canada Rouge service, according to a Cayman Compass report.
In a January 6 statement, Cayman Islands Ministry of Tourism and Transport officials called the Air Canada suspension "an unexpected change" and said the Cayman Islands will continue hosting Canadian travelers arriving on WestJet Airlines, which operates weekly flights between Toronto and Grand Cayman.
"We look forward to continuing to welcome Canadian travelers through alternative routes and airlines serving Grand Cayman," said Kenneth Bryan, the Cayman Islands tourism minister.
The Cayman Islands reopened its borders on November 20, 2021, significantly later than several other Caribbean destinations, as officials consistently pursued a measured reopening strategy. Cayman visitors are currently required to apply online for approval, upload proof of medical insurance and submit proof of a negative PCR test result taken within 24 hours of arrival.
Vaccinated travelers are exempt from quarantine but are required to take three lateral-flow tests on days two, five and 10 of their stay. Travelers who test positive are required to self-isolate for 10 to 14 days.
The Cayman Islands offers tests at several authorized medical locations for approximately $30 per person. Travelers who are unvaccinated or are traveling with unvaccinated children must quarantine for 14 days.
Some Cayman travel stakeholders blamed the Air Canada suspensions on the country's entry guidelines. Marc Langevin, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association president, called for "changes in [Cayman Islands] regulations and improvement of our processes," saying operationally challenged airlines are opting to "reallocate their planes towards destinations [with] less restrictions [that are] more accessible to visitors."
In December, Rosa Harris, the Cayman Islands' director of tourism, said the country's tourism industry is on track to return to 40 percent of its overnight land-based visitors from 2019, targeting 201,702 visitors for the year.
Ironically, in the Cayman Compass report, Harris said the "most difficult" aspect of reopening has been securing airlift "as many airlines were balancing global employee shortages against returning to destinations." Harris said Cayman has "a very high return rate of travelers and demand is strong."
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