Returning to a new normal after COVID-19
It was a long spring in the Cayman Islands, seemingly much longer than the 13 weeks and a day that typically mark the season of renewal. The onset of summer has brought a renewal of its own as most businesses have been allowed to reopen after several months of closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Dart developments and businesses, there is renewed activity as the hotels offer staycations, shops serve customers and staff members return to the office.
In line with government regulations, Dart began a phased reopening of its headquarters at Camana Bay.
Dart’s employees are already in the process of making the return to the office as their primary workspace and Dart’s reception reopened to the public with reduced hours of Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Employees returning to work must adhere to strict government-mandated safety guidelines. Dart anticipates a full return to work before the end of July in line with regulations set by the Cayman Islands Government.
Technology continues to play a key role in helping the staff through the transition of working from home and returning to the office, providing a silver lining in the grey clouds of COVID-19. Chief of Staff Joanne Lawson said Dart’s staff remained productive during the “shelter in place” regulations, relying on infrastructure to communicate remotely. “In the face of the challenges the pandemic presented, our teams were able to remain deployed as much as possible largely due to the technology we had implemented a few months before the COVID-19 virus impact reached our shores. Little did we know then how reliant we would become on those communication tools that allowed us to connect virtually from anywhere at any time,” said Lawson.
Chief Operating Officer Bobby Paul and his team are responsible for providing investment services to specific Dart entities. He said the company adapted the way it did business as the country’s “shelter at home” order was implemented.
“Today’s challenges have presented us with great opportunities to reexamine how we do things and our staff has really stepped up to the plate,” Paul said. “They have brought forth fantastic solutions and ideas that might not have been discovered if things were normal.”
Paul says his team delivered excellence throughout the period in which they worked from home.
“The staff is remarkable and resilient,” he said. “I have been tremendously proud of them during this time and thankful for the fact that I get to lead such a dedicated group of individuals.”
Lawson says this dedication to work was held by all staff, putting the company in good stead for its re-opening to the public and for employees return to the office. “At Dart, we hold our company values as a guide for the way in which we conduct our operations and ourselves. There is no greater pride than watching our values being demonstrated in the face of great challenge,” said Lawson. “This period of working virtually has provided many useful lessons that can be incorporated into future working practices. However, there are elements of being together in person that cannot be replicated remotely and we look forward to the day the team can all be back in the office together.”
As part of the Cayman Islands Government’s swift response when the impact of COVID-19 was first felt in March, airports were closed and a curfew was implemented. The arrival of 200,000 kits facilitated widespread testing where cases were isolated, contacts traced and spread suppressed.
However, the closure of the borders has posed a significant challenge to the tourism sector which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP. According to the latest Economics and Statistics Office, just under 8,000 Cayman Islands residents rely on hospitality for their jobs, but with the borders closed, tourism has been non-existent since mid-March. Dart ensured it supported its retail tenants and hospitality team members as they were hardest hit by the tourism shut down.
For its hospitality portfolio, employees were paid for 10 weeks following the airports closure in mid-March, following which they received financial relief, paid airfare for work permit holders and meals where applicable. Retail tenants also received support as their business model relies heavily on tourism. This support helped buoy the businesses to this point where they can serve local guests and customers.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman General Manager Marc Langevin says his resort’s doors are open and receiving guests who are ready to enjoy their staycations. “The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is fortunate to have an owner who is fully invested in the shared success of this country. The support we received for our ladies and gentlemen put us in a position where those who remain on island can continue serving our local guests while preparing the hotel to welcome overseas guests when the borders reopen,” said Langevin.
Dart’s hospitality portfolio includes The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Kimpton Seafire Resort +Spa, the former Comfort Suites Grand Cayman (currently undergoing renovations), Paradise Villas in Little Cayman and Soleil d’Or in Cayman Brac.
As for Dart’s retail tenants across its properties, President Real Estate Asset Management Justin Howe said he was proud the company did as much as possible to offer support during the crisis.
“When COVID-19 reached the shores of the Cayman Islands, Dart moved to put in place measures to help tenants weather the storm, particularly those whose business models relied on tourism,” he said. “Now that our tenants have reopened, we encourage residents to support these businesses, which in turn helps support the greater economy of the Cayman Islands.”
Employees refrain from the office if:
Should a Dart employee, or someone with which he or she has close contact, test positive for COVID-19 or exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, that employee is required to immediately notify management and follow the Cayman Islands Government’s guidelines for self-quarantine. Everyone in the office will then be notified of the situation and contact tracing will be undertaken to identify staff members who might have had close contact with the impacted employee.