"We have lots of tourists back and we are super happy!"
That was how Agua Hospitality Group Director Cristiano Vincentini responded when asked if the Agua Restaurant and Next Door had seen an increase in tourists since the full opening of Grand Cayman's borders.
In chatting with the visitors in March, many of whom had also dined at Agua in years past, Vincentini said there were some grumblings about the rush-hour traffic in the evenings, but one sentiment rose above the inconveniences: "They all missed the island and they are happy to be able to finally come back."
The story was the same throughout the Camana Bay Town Centre.
"We've seen a big increase in stay-over tourists," said Abacus co-owner Markus Mueri. "It's had a positive impact on both our lunch and dinner business, which is nice to see."
Mueri said that that some of the "regular" tourists who dined at Abacus last month told him they went to other islands while the Cayman Islands was closed to tourists.
"But they were eager to return to Cayman," he said.
Although the cost of doing business has gone up significantly for Abacus over the past two years, the impact is partially offset currently by higher spending by the tourists.
"The quality of the tourists coming here right now is really good," he said. "The average spend on wines has gone way up."
Mueri said he was hopeful that the tourism number would remain at 50% to 60% through June and July, traditionally strong months for family visitors.
"But what we really have to gear toward is Thanksgiving 2022," he said. "By then we need the island to be fully employed, fully operational, fully trained and ready to go."
West Indies Wine Company Manager Will Loyd said the increase in tourists walking through the door happened almost instantaneously after the Cayman Islands Government removed the requirement for three post-arrival COVID-19 tests.
"It was like someone flipped a switch the first day after they opened everything up," he said. "It's been great."
Loyd has also seen an increase in sales, especially with higher-end wines.
"I think we've sold more Krug [Champagne] in the past three weeks than we did in the past year," he said, noting that a lot of luxury American wines have sold as well.
Catherine Dawson-James of the Sand Angels group, which owns and operates four shops in Camana Bay, said she's seen a significant increase in business in the Sand Angels store in particular. That store specialises in swimsuits and other beachwear.
"That was the store that missed tourists the most and that suffered without them," she said.
Like other merchants in Camana Bay, Dawson-James said she's seeing a lot of familiar faces return to the store, some of whom say they have waited until they could come back to Sand Angels to buy a new swimsuit.
"Many have said they really missed Cayman and it's so nice to be back."
At 3 Girls & A Kiln, the return of tourism has meant increased sales in small, easily packed items.
"We've sold a tonne of tea towels," said one of the business's owners, Claire Rohleder. "We've also sold a lot of our disco starfish, probably because they're small."
Island Companies, which operates more than 20 stores across Grand Cayman, including Island Jewellers and De Sunglass Man in Camana Bay, has also seen an increase in sales since tourism returned, said General Manager Nick Jackson.
"Having stay-over guests back has been really beneficial for us across our locations at Camana Bay, but also of course at our locations in The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and at Owen Roberts International Airport," Jackson said. "We’ve definitely seen a steady increase in foot traffic and an increase in families visiting post-removal of testing requirements."
The return of cruise ships on 21 March hasn't had as big of an effect on sales yet at the recently reopened Islands Jewellers store in George Town after a two-year closure.
"As expected with the closure of Cardinall Avenue for construction, it has not been easy to bring foot traffic towards the storefront," said Jackson. "We are very much looking forward to the opening of the pedestrianised Cardinall Avenue in the near future. In the meantime, we’ve had a positive trickle of people come through on the days we’ve had cruise ships. We expect that this will continue to be the case until the street is reopened to provide a warm welcome to the heart of downtown."
The Island Plaza, which is where Island Jewellers is located, is currently undergoing an extensive renovation. Through April, the only entrance to the jewellery store is from Cardinall Avenue. In May, however, the Island Companies stores Churchill’s Cigars, Swarovski, Pandora and De Sunglass Man will also reopen in the Island Plaza, which will then also reopen the mall's entrance off Seafarers Way.
With the increase in customers and the recent reopenings of Island Companies stores, and with more reopenings coming next month, hiring has been a key focus recently, said Jackson.
"For a number of months, we have been on a search for great candidates to support our retail efforts and it has paid off," he said. "We’ve had some great new employees join us and some fantastic old ones return. As we prepare for the opening of more of our stores, we are seeking to hire some additional great candidates, so I encourage all those interested, to visit dart.ky/careers."
This article appears in the April 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.
In other news