Although Curaçao is a small island, as a tourism destination it has many visitors, including about 400,000 from Europe every year. Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell hopes TT can piggyback off that with Caribbean Airlines’s introduction of direct flights between TT and Curaçao.
“What we intend to do very strategically is to tap into their European market, especially for Carnival. We want to open the opportunity for multi-destination travel where they come to Curaçao for a beach vacation, hop on a quick one-and-a-half-hour flight to Trinidad on a Friday, go to some parties over the weekend, and come back to Curaçao on Monday,” he told Business Day in Curaçao, following the inaugural CAL flight on August 2.
With the trade of goods and services between the two countries estimated at TT$357 million, Mitchell believes the new flights on Mondays and Fridays will enhance business travel as well as TT’s conventions and meetings products. Curaçao’s tourism product is more advanced than TT’s so he hopes to introduce new areas of cooperation, including the way the Curaçao Tourist Board manages the island’s sites and attractions.
“They recently set up a tourist police unit. That is something (National Security) Minister Stuart Young and I were talking about in answer to the robbery around the Queen's Park Savannah of cruise ship tourists as well as patrolling TT's beaches.”
Tourism Trinidad Ltd (TTL) chairman Howard Chin Lee said he has already spoken to the CEO of the Curaçao Tourist Board, Paul Pennicook. "We would like a reciprocal arrangement where people go to Curaçao and we get arrivals from Curaçao as well. Whilst there I will examine the market and see how we can best attract people from that destination to come to Trinidad,” he said, also in August 2 at the launch of the flight at Piarco International Airport. He said CAL is working to establish more flights to other destinations within the Caribbean and TTL intends to work closely with the airline in this regard. He also said TTL will collaborate with all CAL's destinations to encourage arrivals and is looking at how TTL can allocate funds to do so.
Prior to CAL’s arrival, two other airlines flew from TT to Curaçao but neither were direct flights. In an email interview, Pennicook said, “As CAL is a direct flight and brings increased connectivity this will make a big difference to Curaçao.”
At one point Curaçao’s national airline, Insel Air, flew to TT but it began having financial difficulties in 2016. By 2019, Insel went out of business. Pennicook believes this resulted in a decrease in passenger arrivals for a number of years.
The crisis in Venezuela negatively impacted both arrivals and business from Venezuela but, more recently, Curaçao was fortunate to replace those arrivals with passengers from other South American countries like Colombia and Brazil.
“Stay-over visitor arrivals increased by some 31,000 passengers in 2018. January to July of this year stay-over arrivals have already increased by another 33,000. It is this positive growth momentum that has inspired confidence in the investors to build more hotels.”
Recently, several hotel chains established themselves or refreshed their brands on the island. These included Marriott, Hilton, and Corendon.
Janette Van Der Meulen, Corendon business development manager told Business Day that Livingstone Jan Thiel Resort was bought by Corendon Hotels and Resorts in September 2017.
At the moment Livingstone has 41 villas, 114 rooms, and 44 apartments as well as a pool, a restaurant, and a dive shop that accommodates car rentals, island tours and diving tours. It is also walking distance from the Boca Gentil beach, a private beach to which Livingstone customers have free access, as well as a mall with a number of shops and restaurants. Remodelling is expected to begin on Livingstone soon to include more rooms, updating of the villas' interiors, and sea front villas will be outfitted with private pools. There will also be changes in the lobby and pool areas, and villas on one side of the resort will be demolished and converted into two buildings with rooms and a pool.
In addition, Corendon is in the process of building a new five-star hotel called the Corendon Mangrove Beach Resort. Located in Otrobanda, the all-inclusive hotel is expected to open in April 2020 with 400 rooms and 400 more to be opened a year later. It will include a private beach, a water park with nine slides, several pools, seven restaurants and bars and a kids' club.
“We are not seeing an increase in visitors yet but we are very hopeful that the economy in Curaçao will get a boost and it will become better. I’ve been working for Corendon since March and one of the reasons I chose to work here is because the owners believe in our island," Van Der Meulen said.
There is a change in the minds of the people in Curaçao, she said. "We are appreciating more what we have here on the island. We have beautiful beaches, very nice weather the whole year round, lovely people who will receive you and give you all the guidance you need. Our island is really safe and secure and there are attractions for tourists who want to come to a quiet place to have a very nice vacation with family. We are starting to believe in those principles and we need to start doing more to promote the beauty we have here.”
Caribbean Airlines flies to Curaçao twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays. Fares are seasonal but can start from about TT$1,600.