Published On: Mon, Jan 15th, 2018

Towards a more inclusive community-based tourism development

Exciting Times for Punda

WillemstadWILLEMSTAD - Punda is unique compared to many other islands in the Caribbean. Curaçao’s city center has authentic historical buildings and our Handelskade is on the UNESCO world heritage list. Cruise tourism is growing rapidly, and tourists are spending locally. Punda is doing well, but we're not there yet.

Old Punda, New Punda

In the old times Punda was the throbbing heart of the island. When you needed to get your shopping done or if you were looking for entertainment, you went to Punda. The city was full of life and it had an atmosphere that attracted large numbers of people on a daily basis. Then other shopping areas began to emerge around the island and Punda lost some of its luster. This trend developed further and at a certain point Punda became empty, with just enough life during the day but completely shut down at night. In the past years there was a lack of growth due to a shortage of funds and implementation of plans and Punda as a whole simply lacked a vision or ambition to work towards. Downtown Management Organization (DMO) manages all aspects of downtown development in order to provide a safe and friendly environment for people to live, work, shop and play and over the past 5 years DMO has been working on a vision and a plan to bring back the sparkle and livelihood to Punda. Today, Punda is moving towards exciting times.

The Value of Tourism

Ask any local person what they think of Punda and the answer is: ‘I love Punda!’ Ask them how often they go to Punda and they will be thinking about the answer for a while. We must conclude that Punda has become less attractive and accessible to our locals. So, how do we change that?

It’s a rule of thumb that only when people live in a city, it will come alive. Punda is transitioning from being a mere shopping area to an urban area where people live, work and hang out. The ground floors in Punda have always been used for business and the upper floors were used for storage or did not have a purpose. Now, a group of pioneering property owners are investing in apartments on the other floors of their properties, inviting locals, tourists, digital nomads and other temporary visitors to come and live short, middle and long term in Punda. This is starting to have a valuable effect on the livelihood of our city.

One of the effective new initiatives to make Punda more attractive to potential local customers is Punda Vibes. It was introduced in June 2016 to bring more life to the city in the evening. Every Thursday Punda Vibes turns the city into a wonderland of culture, art, entertainment, food, drinks and shopping. One can have a tasty bite at one of the many restaurants and cafes in Punda, do some late shopping, participate in an amazing art walk or dance to live music in open air. The results have been incredible, and Punda Vibes has become a well-known weekly event on the island.

The intersection of tourism and local community-building is where the best solutions can take root. DMO believes that we need to grow our local awareness of the economic value of tourism, while inclusiveness of locals should always be a self-evident aspect. DMO wants to upgrade the quality of the city, by upgrading the quality of the shops and their merchandise, creating a vibrant city with a variety of very different shops and by using the rich history Curaçao has. Adding a slightly European ambiance in the city is bound to draw international brands to establish themselves here.

Cruise Tourism

After touring the Caribbean every cruise tourist that lands on our island is amazed by the authenticity and rich variety of our city center. Cruise tourism is becoming a very important factor in the growth of Punda. Last year November the second mega pier was opened, and the effect is already visible in the revenue of all the shops, restaurants and cafes in Punda, which is promising for our economy. Going on a cruise used to be a luxury, but has now become much more affordable. This has lead the average cruise tourist to spend much more on location instead of only on the ship. DMO is working on a plan with the government to make Punda duty and tax free by exempting the area (Punda) or the tourist, in which case they would be exempted from tax everywhere on the island. This is the only way to compete with the shopping malls on the ships.

Speeding up Development

Another example of the important change of times we are currently in, is the start of an organization called the Business Improvement District (BID), which is part of an international collective. The members are all entrepreneurs of Punda and they pay a fixed amount every month into this fund. Every cent invested in this fund goes back into improvement of the Punda area.

Our center is unique. Sooner or later it will become the economic, cultural and social heart of the island again. DMO has big plans for Punda, but we cannot do it alone. We need the investment of our government and other entrepreneurs and the trust of local customers to speed up the development of the new Punda that is already manifesting. Punda is in a beautifully transformational phase and we will continue to build towards creating a brand-new Punda culture that is inclusive, creative and sustainable. The key in this approach lies in the vision of DMO that only an inclusive community-based tourism approach will be financially and socially rewarding for our entire community.

At the Downtown Management Organization, our mission is to grow, strengthen and promote the economic health and vitality of Punda.

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