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Curaçao Takes Aim at the U.S. Market

October 30, 2006 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent

The "best-kept secret in the Caribbean" touts new hotel

Over the years, Curaçao's Dutch-flavored Caribbean hospitality has been a proven hit with European travelers. Europeans currently account for 40 percent of Curaçao's visitors. The U.S. market, at 25 percent, is a significant one for Curaçao, but look for the island to begin a fresh marketing blitz targeted toward corralling even more visitors from North America.  Stunning sea views from the balcony of the Avila Hotel

"We have a five-year tourism master plan in place that
focuses on the North American market," says Clifton Walle, executive
director, Curaçao Tourism Board. "Curaçao has so much to offer, much more
than sun and sand. We have history and culture, great dining, our Jewish
heritage, and our capital of Willemstad,
which has been singled out for UNESCO World Heritage status."

Curaçao currently receives five percent of total U.S. visitors to the Caribbean.
The island is targeting experienced travelers—those who have visited the Caribbean before. Curaçao is also bypassing mid-market
travelers to reach out to those with $75,000 or more in household income. Walle
observes that Curaçao is not a cheap product; that visitors are willing to pay
a premium, but in doing so they insist on a quality product. "The upscale
market is our main vertical market—we'll continue to focus on them," he

Walle notes that Curaçao targets several markets
specifically. These include the dive market, gay/lesbian market,
African-American market, groups and incentives, the Jewish market and Latino

An ærial view of the Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club

"The Latino market out of the U.S. is an important one for us, because of our
historical relationship with South America,"
says Walle. "In the `60s and `70s many of the parents of Latinos visited
Curaçao. Our island has been influenced by South America—you
can see it in our culture, cuisine and music."

Last November, Curaçao saw more arrivals from the West Coast
than the East. The most important reason for the surge in visitors from the
West Coast was the addition of the 5:30 p.m. flight on American Airlines, which
cuts travel time to one day. Many of the West Coast visitors hailed from San Francisco, Los Angeles
and San Diego,
cities with significant gay populations. The Curaçao Tourist Board, with last
year's inauguration of www.gaycuraç,
has been proactive in getting out the message that Curaçao is a gay-friendly
destination. A Historic Hotel Spreads its Wings

Two of the major draws for the African-American market are
the Museum Kura Hulanda, an anthropological museum that includes exhibits on
the African slave trade and West African Empires; and Den Paradera, an herb
garden that also presents performances of tambu, a traditional form of
communication that originated when slaves rhythmically beat drums and hoes.

In a nod to the dive market, the island created a new annual
event in 2006, the Curaçao Dive Festival. Held last May, the festival offered free
registration, and there was also no charge for most seminars and clinics. There
were fees for actual scheduled dives during the program.

Clifton Walle

"Within three years, we'll double the number of rooms
we had in 2005 (to 6,000)," says Walle. "This will go far toward
alleviating the island's tight situation in terms of room availability, with
hotels and resorts averaging 83 percent occupancy."

There's hope that these new rooms will increase demand for
airlift. "Hotels' rooms availability is a factor in attracting additional
flights," says Walle. "As more hotel rooms come on line, we expect to
see more flights in the winter of 2007-08." Talks are ongoing with several
carriers, including U.S. Airways, Delta, United, JetBlue and Spirit. The new
flight from American has proven to be successful; discussions are underway to
get a second flight. Continental may expand to two flights a week. High
Marks for Safety

In regard to low-cost carriers, Walle says, "Even
luxury clients want to save money on airfare—they'd rather spend it at the

Curaçao recently celebrated the grand opening of its new
airport terminal, the first phase in a 30-year contract to develop and expand Curaçao International Airport.
Phase one of the expansion also included adding two large interior gardens and
a large landscaped exterior plaza, as well as expansions for aircraft parking,
passport control, check-in and ticket sales, and administrative offices. Essential

"In the late `60s, Curaçao was the number-one
destination in the Caribbean," says Billy
Jonckheer, vice president, Curaçao Hotel and Tourism Association. "In the
late `80s and `90s, the government neglected tourism to concentrate on other

Jonckheer explains that the private sector stepped up to
promote Curaçao's tourism, and significant changes were made. "From the
beginning, we reached out to major chain hotels, to encourage them to build on
Curaçao," says Jonckheer. "We were, frankly, looking for their help
in marketing the destination."

Jonckheer notes that from January through April, Curaçao's
hotels do very well, though there is a potential problem in not having enough
rooms for the winter season. "Some guests are not getting the rooms they
want," says Jonckheer. "Hyatt, scheduled to open in mid-2008, and
Renaissance, set to open at the beginning of 2008, will address this
shortage." He adds that groups are already approaching Hyatt to book.
Jonckheer also notes that Westin is in preparations to build a hotel on
Curaçao. "They're about 75 percent ready to start," he says.

The 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao is poised to
become the largest hotel on the island and the first large hotel to open since
the Sonesta (now a Marriott), which was completed in 1992. The hotel is part of
the extensive Santa Barbara Plantation project, and will have a casual
restaurant, fine dining establishment, spa, salon and fitness center. For
entertainment, there will be a 5,800-square-foot casino, a multi-level pool,
poolside grill, lounge, cabana area, tennis courts, and a Pete Dye-designed
18-hole championship golf course. The Hyatt Regency is planned to open summer

The Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino, a AAA,
Four Diamond hotel, will have 240 deluxe guest rooms and suites and is
scheduled to open in December 2007. Also part of the Renaissance complex is The
Rif Fort, with more than eight restaurants, many retail boutiques, a six-screen
cinema, Carnaval Casino, meeting areas, beach, boardwalk and park.

Last year, the Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa and Casino in
the heart of Willemstad opened a sister
property, the Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club, 30 minutes from the Curaçao Hato International Airport. Many guests are
choosing to combine two nights in the city at Hotel Kura Hulanda, with three
nights at the beach at the lodge and beach club. Transportation is provided
between the properties. Last July, the Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa and Casino opened
its fully operational spa facility, with six treatment rooms, outdoor massages,
and a sauna/steam room.

The Clarion International Curaçao opened last March,
with 200 guest rooms and suites, meeting rooms with capacity of up to 1,500
people, and a gourmet catering service that can accommodate 4,500 people.

Also in 2006, the Hilton Curaçao completed a
multi-phased renovation process, adding a new business center, executive floor
and executive lounge.

Walle notes that in 2007, the Curaçao Tourist Board will
host two travel agent fam/workshops. "In December, we'll conduct a
roadshow in New York,
which is the largest regional market for us," he says. For details, visit www.curaç or
contact the Curaçao Tourist Board Miami office at 305-285-0511, [email protected].

"The majority of Americans who come to Curaçao say it's
the best-kept secret in the Caribbean,' says
Walle. "But we don't want to remain a secret—we want to increase awareness
of the island."

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