Most islands in the Caribbean have reopened their borders to U.S. visitors. Some destinations allow entry only for travelers who are vaccinated, but all except the Dominican Republic require Covid tests before arrival and some after arrival, as well.
The Cayman Islands is an exception. Its borders have remained closed to most travelers since March 2020.
When will Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman reopen to leisure travelers?
I spoke with Kenneth Bryan, newly appointed minister of tourism and transport following the recent election, to find out the strategy behind the reopening plans.
Kenneth Bryan, minister of tourism and transport, Cayman Islands
"We're shooting for a 75% to 80% vaccination rate for our citizens. That's been our target all along, but the closer we get to that target, the harder it seems to reach it," Bryan said.
By mid-August, approximately 68% of the eligible population of 66,000 had received two doses of the vaccines.
Bryan is eyeing Sept. 30 as the date for everyone eligible in the Cayman Islands to get their last vaccine dose.
Cash incentives, raffles, public service announcements and campaigns have been used to motivate island residents, business owners and ground tour operators to vaccinate.
All along, the Cayman Islands have followed a very strict policy toward reopening. While other Caribbean countries reopened months ago, only to have to shut down again briefly due to a Covid surge in some cases, the Cayman Islands have followed a phased reopening approach.
"Some islands pulled the trigger too fast and had to backtrack," Bryan said. "The Cayman Islands government and the department of tourism developed a five-phase plan to ensure a safe and healthy experience for those working in the industry and our visitors.
"We want to be the one country that does not have to close after full reopening."
The first two phases ran from June through mid-August and allowed entry for certain categories of securely verified travelers -- home and villa owners, business owners, health professionals, repatriated workers -- subject to entry authorization, documentation and quarantine regulations.
A remote-work-and-stay program was launched late last year, subject to approval of a rigorous application for a limited stay.
Phase 3, which is slated to begin Sept. 9, will remove some of the quarantine restrictions for those who arrive on repatriation flights.
Phase 4, which begins Oct. 14, will see the borders open for all securely verified, fully vaccinated adult travelers. Unvaccinated visitors must apply for entry via the Travel Cayman Portal and quarantine upon arrival for 14 days. All travelers must declare travel and vaccination status on the portal.
"We have met with American Airlines and United, and they have expressed interest in resuming their flight schedules here. They're not seeing demand yet, but have tentatively decided to resume services in October," Bryan said.
The safety, health and well-being of the people of the Cayman Islands remain the government's No. 1 priority for reopening, according to Bryan.
The October date is aimed at adult travelers who are verified and fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated travelers are subject to a 14-day quarantine, but both categories have to apply through the Travel Cayman Portal, present a Covid-19 PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to arrival and provide proof of medical insurance, which includes coverage for Covid-19.
Phase 5, beginning Nov. 18, will allow unvaccinated children under 12 years of age to travel with vaccinated family members with no quarantine period required. Unvaccinated travelers above the age of 12 must quarantine for 14 days.
"The time between each of these phases will allow us to iron out the kinks. At all phases, public health officials will monitor the prevalence rate and spread of Covid," Bryan said, adding that the transition between stages will be determined by myriad factors.
When the country has completed all five phases and following a thorough assessment from the government and health officials, the Cayman Islands plans to celebrate its grand reopening on Jan. 27 and welcome all travelers without quarantine or travel restrictions. At this time, cruise tourism may resume, according to Bryan.