Published On: Tue, Oct 28th, 2014

Curacao minister talks tourism opportunities

CuracaoDiversification is proving to be a key factor in Curacao’s healthy financial picture, and tourism appears to be benefitting as well, although there is room to grow, according to Stanley Palm, minister of economic development.

“Most of the Caribbean islands depend solely on tourism. For Curacao, tourism accounts for 25% of our Gross Domestic Product," Palm said. "We have a diversified economy with our oil refinery, the drydock facilities and our trade free zone.

“Tourism is growing steadily, and that’s why this market is very important for us. We believe we have a lot more opportunities, and we can do a lot better than we’re doing now."

The tourism sector provides the most jobs in Curacao.

Visitor numbers have grown steadily in recent years.  It counted more than 440,000 stayover visitors in 2013, up nearly 5% over 2012. The country also is proving to be a strong player in cruise: It draws more than 610,000 passengers in 2013, a 41.4% jump over 2012.

Figures through August (the latest figures available) show a drop of 1.2% in stayovers and an increase of 8.9% in cruise arrivals over the same period in 2013.

“We want to increase airlift from our U.S. market, and we’re getting a big boost from JetBlue," Palm said, which on Dec. 2 will start twice-weekly nonstop service from New York Kennedy. "This is the only nonstop service from New York to Curacao,” Palm said.

If load factors do well, the schedule could move to four flights a week later in the winter.

Curacao’s cruise port runs at full capacity in the winter, and talks are underway for a second pier to be built. “Our goal is one million cruise passengers a year by 2020, so we need a second facility,” Palm said.

He’d also like to see cruise spend increase from the current, per-person average of $72.

Hotel upgrades and improvements are in the works at a number of properties. Room count stands at 5,500 rooms, of which 2,700 are villas, bungalows and apartments. Curacao is hoping to announce a 150-room Courtyard by Marriott in the near future.

“It will be a business hotel in Willemstad with a pool area and other touristic concepts,” he said.

Palm said he hoped for 1,500 more hotel rooms in the next five years. One developer is eyeing the up-and-coming Pietermaai neighborhood near Willemstad.

The trend in all-inclusives has not impacted Curacao yet.

“This is a growing trend, especially with South Americans, but we have only a couple of properties that offer it as an option,” Palm said.

Close to 52% of all U.S. business to Curacao comes through tour operators and agents. “We’re active in bringing agents down on fam trips. We don’t have an agent specialist program as of now,” he said.
The family market is big for Curacao, particularly from Germany and Holland. Another heavy focus for Curacao is the wedding market.

“Curacao has a comparatively low profile among North Americans, so it is not the destination that is top of mind for wedding planners or couples, but we intend to increase that market,” he said.

By Gay Nagle Myers of Travel Weekly

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