Five Questions With: Paul Pennicook, CEO of Curaçao Tourism

Handleskade, Willemstad, Curacao
Handleskade, Willemstad, Curacao

At the beginning of summer, the Curaçao Tourist Board (CTB) reported a 17 percent increase in 2019 stayover arrivals to that point. The CTB said it was aggressive targeting both emerging and established markets in the United States, including Texas, Florida and Virginia, and these efforts seemed to be working. To get the latest from the island, Travel Agent recently caught up with Paul Pennicook, managing director and CEO of the CTB. Pennicook previously served twice as Jamaica’s director of tourism and worked in senior management positions with SuperClubs, which includes Breezes, Hedonism II and Grand Lido, as well as Sandals Resorts’ marketing division, Unique Vacations.   

1. You recently launched a new website—how has it been received and how does it help travel agents looking to book Curaçao?

Paul PennicookFirst of all, I must say the new website has been very positively received by all audiences, including the travel agent community—and I think it works particularly well for travel agents if they're going to book Curaçao for the first time because, in addition to everything else, it has these curated itineraries for spending a few days in Curaçao, or for that matter a few hours, on a particular day—very different tours and that sort of thing. So, there are these sample itineraries for three days, five days, 10 days. All things to do in and around Curaçao, so that I found very, very useful. And in general, as I said, it's been very, very well-received.

2. On that note of finding things to do in Curaçao, what are some lesser-known things that you can do on Curaçao that people should know about?

I would think things like spending a little bit of time in downtown Willemstad—going to somewhere like Handleskade in Willemstad, which is actually a UNESCO Heritage Site. And then you can walk over to the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, for example. This bridge is somewhat unique in that it floats on the water and it shifts open to allow ships to pass through it. As a matter of fact, at high tide you can even feel the bridge float gently over the waves. Apart from everything else, that bridge provides fantastic views, photographic vantages from different angles, especially at night.

We have a number of areas in downtown Willemstad, such as Scharloo, where you can check out the local street arts. It’s not something that everybody does every day but that’s something rather unique. Of course, you know about Blue Curaçao liqueur; a lot of people don't know that but it is, in fact, from here. But visiting the actual factory is a special thing to do. Because, then, one can see how this iconic liqueur from Curaçao is prepared. And then one could visit a bar and try Rom Berde. Rom Berde is green rum, which is 100 percent homegrown and only found in Curaçao. So that's something rather unique.

(Tip: Rom Berde should, according to Pennicook, be served on the rocks or mixed with fresh coconut water.)

And do you know that the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere is located in Downtown Willemstad? It's the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue

3. Can you tell us more about the North Sea Jazz Festival?

Well during that week happens to be Labor Day Weekend, so it's the time where people just come down and enjoy the weekend in Curaçao, anyway. But when the North Sea Jazz Festival is in progress believe me it's all-consuming down here because of the caliber of stars that we have performing in Curaçao during that period. At the same time, being the sort of island that we are, we really have popular stars but it's an intimate setting because it's really a small area where you have these people performing. For example, the night the festival begins this year, there's going to be a concert by Juan Luis Guerra—he's a Grammy winner and he's going to be giving a free concert on that night. And then, as I mentioned before, there are really huge stars from an array of different music types, Kenny G to Mariah Carey and Maroon 5. So it's a bunch of different types of music that's going to be on this year.

For the young people there's Pitbul. For the older folks like myself, Earth Wind & Fire.

(Tip: The festival runs August 29 – 31; tickets can be found at www.curacaonorthseajazz.com.)

4. What other events will be taking place in Curaçao this year?

I should mention that the last week of September is Pride Week here in Curaçao and I want to mention that because this is the seventh year of the Pride Week Festival here in Curaçao. Curaçao has in fact been a leader in the Caribbean in the LGBTQ community and the LGBTQ travel. One of the reasons for that is simply this, we are still associated with the Netherlands, and if you recall the Netherlands was, in fact, the first country to legalize gay marriage. So, Curaçao is very welcoming of the LGBTQ community and we have this Pride Festival, which is going to take place like I said at the end of September. It's pretty impressive.

We have a hotel here that is very much an LGBT hotel and, like I said, it's a destination unlike the rest of the Caribbean. Curaçao has really been very welcoming to the community and there's always activities that appreciate and welcome that community.

5. What else do you want travelers to know about Curaçao?

We're quite excited about how we're doing so far this year. The only other thing I'd like to mention is as this growth continues to take place in Curaçao, we are now seeing the investment in hotels—because, by this time next year, we should have the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort up and running, we'll have the Corendon Mangrove Beach Resort—the first phase—up and running, and we'll have a Dreams Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino all on Curaçao. So, with all these things in the pipeline, as well as stuff opening before the end of the year, we're really set to continue to grow.

(Tip: Curaçao will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Carnival in 2020; events take place in February.)

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