Although perhaps not as well-known as some other Caribbean destinations, Curaçao has a great deal to offer. Recommend’s associate publisher, Terence Murphy, recently sat down with Stanley Palm, Minister of Economic Affairs and Tourism, Curaçao, and Andre Rojer, North America director, who outlined the island’s positioning in the marketplace.
Terence Muphy (TM): How does Curaçao differ from the other Caribbean destinations?
Stanley Palm (SP): Contrary to other islands in the Caribbean, Curaçao has other sectors to our economy, so we try to keep tourism in balance and not be solely reliant on one sector. However, tourism has increased substantially over the past 10 years and now accounts for 22 percent of our economy and is the biggest employer on the island right now.
TM: Of that 22 percent how much comes from North America?
SP: We get about 400,000 tourists a year and about 30 percent of that comes from North America. That number is certainly increasing, and to do that we need the American brand hotels. Our biggest market is still Europe, with about 40 percent.
TM: What type of experience will visitors to Curaçao encounter?
SP: When you get to Curaçao, you will notice immediately the diversity of the people, and I believe we have the most beautiful people on the planet. All the islands of the Caribbean have the sun, sea and the sand, which we have as well, but I think the aspect of the people is what makes us different. In addition, we have the history, we have the culture, we have the cuisine, we have diving and so much more.
TM: What would you like agents to know about the uniqueness of Curaçao?
SP: On Curaçao, we don’t have many all-inclusive resorts and the reason is we want people to go out there and explore the island. Go to the local snack bar, go to the local restaurant, have lunch with a fisherman, and I think that’s what we have to promote.
TM: Are there any all-inclusives?
SP: Just one, the Sunscape, an AMResort. The visitor will be missing out if they just stay inside the hotel though.
TM: Can you tell us more about the variety of accommodations available, particularly the American brands and anything new on the horizon?
SP: We have a Marriott; we have a Renaissance hotel; we have a Hilton; we have a Howard Johnson and now Sonesta is coming back to the island The Kura Hulanda properties will be transitioning into the Sonesta Crowne level properties—the downtown property will be more a corporate retreat and the other in Westpunt will be a beach-style property with an emphasis on diving. We are also looking at possibly a Hard Rock property and a Courtyard by Marriott hotel in the pipeline, although those deals are not finalized. We consider ourselves a sleeping giant; there is so much opportunity there and people are starting to get to know Curaçao more and more. Another thing is that we are not Americanized; visitors want to go somewhere exotic, somewhere that has a different type of hotel and a different experience, and we feel we can offer that.
TM: What about airlift into the island, is it sufficient?
SP: It’s not sufficient. We have three daily flights from Miami and a daily flight from Charlotte, and during the winter we have three weekly flights from Toronto.
TM: If you were talking to clients in general what would you suggest to their clients not to miss on a visit to Curaçao?
SP: Certainly the Kura Hulanda Museum, and the Marshe Bieuw, which is the old market, a community place in the middle of downtown when you can share your table with locals and dinning there is a very good value for the price. We also have a series of events on the island. Carnival is very popular, which just happened in March, and this year will be the fifth North Sea Jazz Festival in August featuring Bruno Mars and many other top-name entertainers. Past performers have included Carlos Santana, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, so this is a top-notch event. Also the New Years Eve celebrations in Curaçao are spectacular.
TM: Is the cruise market increasing?
SP: Yes indeed. We have seen a 33 percent increase in 2013 over 2012, from 400,000 passengers to 600,000 in one year, so it is certainly growing and we would like to improve our product. We are also working on making Curaçao a tax free island so we can get more income from the tourists. We are also building a second pier outside the existing pier to accommodate larger vessels; construction on that begins this year.
TM: What are your plans specifically for promoting the country in North America and who would be the target visitor?
Andre Rojer: We are looking for the curious cultural explorer, people who have been to the Caribbean and are looking for new and unique destinations. We are not in the top five islands when you think about a typical Caribbean destination, we don’t want to be among the masses, we want to be unique. We are maximizing our promotional efforts particularly to the trade. We are very committed to the trade and have just completed road shows in New Jersey, New York, Westchester, Long Island and have another coming up in the west coast, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, then Dallas and San Antonio, and one in South Florida in June.
For more information, visit curaçao.com.