AIRLIFT for Eastern Caribbean visitors is a serious challenge for organisers of the popular North Sea Jazz Festival (NSJF) for which Curacao has been the centre stage of the Caribbean, for the past eight years.
Janine Neef-de Windt, marketing manager Caribbean, Curacao Tourist Board (CTB), told Newsday that quite a number of people in the Eastern Caribbean have expressed interest in the three-day event from August 31 to September 1, given the line-up of artistes but unfortunately there is a serious airlift problem.
The festival will feature the likes of Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, Sean Paul, Spyro Gyra, Patti LaBelle, Jason Derulo, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera, Grace Jones, Carlos Vives, KC and the Sunshine Band, Burt Bacharach and Farruko. Insel Air has stopped its direct service on the route and it’s only Suriname Airways that is moving people from the Eastern Caribbean to Curacao with additional stops. “We will work with some charter and tour operators to get TT people to the event,” said Windt. As part of CTB, a contingent of eight, including Windt, flew into Trinidad to participate in the Trade and Investment Conference (TIC) at Centre of Excellence, Macoya.
Windt said the reason for trip was that for a number of years the CTB has been working closely with TT and saw the opportunity, especially now, for the island’s economic development, to return to Trinidad to talk with relevant ministers and to also start new business partnerships. We have to keep our presence in Trinidad. There were thousands of TT people who had done business in our free zones in the past but has decreased within recent times. We came as CTB because we didn’t want to be forgotten, we are still here but the airlift is not enough for the demand that we do have, (the airlift is also) not enough for the business people who want to come to Curacao,” she said.
“We have a lot of companies, banks, offshore banks, insurance companies, the Guardian Group, the RBC Bank, all have their offices in Curacao so we need those flights and those people for business, and also for tourism.”
Windt said up to five years ago they had many visitors buying products, or going to Curacao for leisure.
“We do know that you have a lot of holidays and long weekends, so we used to have a lot of TT visitors coming in those periods and we want that back,” she said.
“The other reason we came here was to meet with Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and that we did as we got off the plane. Together with our Minister of Economic Development Steven Martina and the Ambassador of the Dutch Kingdom, stationed here in TT, Jules Bijl, we met with CAL CEO Garvin Madera. We had a very good meeting we gave the figures of arrival tourists, where they are staying, bookings with travel agencies, and information from Curinde (Curacao Industrial and International Trade Development Company) and they were very impressed with the TT visitors of the free zone.”
She added: “At TIC you could really see the business people’s interest in what we have to offer, not only from TT but also from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and all the Caribbean islands. So this opportunity to connect again with all the Caribbean islands is really a must.”
Liat connects the Eastern Caribbean islands but it was difficult for the airline to connect to Curacao, she said.
“We need everybody to work together to have this problem solved in the near future. I don’t know if it is a short-term thing or in the long-term but with such a demand we know we need to have a solution for this...getting visitors to Curacao, and for the Curacao people to come here for business or leisure.”
Daniel Oleana, assistant manager Curinde, the managing company of the Curacao Harbour Free (Economic) Zone, said: “We are in constant contact with merchants in the zone who for many years have been doing business with Trinidad and getting information from the customers. But some of our clients have been complaining about the serious lack of airlift, especially coming from Trinidad and this is actually affecting our client base, and people who want to come to Curacao to do their shopping specifically in the free economic zones so we are here to find out how we can improve on this.”
Although there has been no commitment on airlift with CAL, the airline has shown an interest, said Oleana.
“This also means that we have some homework to do in Curacao in order to gauge the interest even more, not only with CAL but also the other potential options that may become viable or financially feasible in the future for Curacao.”