Room Key: Avila Hotel

Address: Avila Beach, Penstraat 130, Box 791, Willemstad, Curacao

Phone: (011) 599-9-461-4377

Reservations: (800) 747-8162

Web:www.avilahotel.com

General Manager: Paul Kok

Rooms: 176 rooms and suites

Rates: In the new 68-room Octagon wing, rates through April 15 range from $260 to $410 per room, per night, double; summer rates through Sept. 15, from $210 to $340; from Sept. 16 to Dec. 15, $220 to $350. Packages available.

Review: There's a stark contrast between the original buildings, which date from 1780, and the new contemporary wing outfitted with sleek furnishings right down to the trough-like bathroom basin and immovable sun shade on the balcony. The hotel has two restaurants, three bars, the popular Blues jazz spot, Paradis Spa, in-room Internet access, a delightful beach, an infinity pool, the Octagon Museum and La Belle Alliance recital hall and is just minutes from town. All electrical outlets but one in guest rooms are European-style, which require an adaptor. The hotel offers complimentary shuttle transport to Punda.

WILLEMSTAD, Curacao -- New and renovated hotel properties, impressive increases in visitor arrivals and the development of additional niche markets attest to the recent efforts of Curacao tourism officials to raise the destination's visibility and awareness, particularly in the U.S. and Canadian markets.

In fact, U.S. and Canadian visitors numbered more than 54,000 in 2006, out of a total of 240,000, according to Aimee Kleinmoedig, director of the Curacao Tourism Corp.

"That represented a 7.9% jump over 2005, which shows we are making inroads in that market," she said.

Market share from the U.S. and Canada last year was 17.7%, vs. 16.6% in 2005.

What officials said they are noticing is that Curacao no longer has a low season, traditionally the summer period in the Caribbean when bookings fall off.

"Our strongest market hails from Europe, and these travelers book for two weeks in the winter but we also have a steady travel stream from South America all year long," Kleinmoedig said.

Those markets, plus the upswing in the U.S. and Canadian markets, is helping solidify Curacao's market appeal.

This year bodes well in terms of arrivals and stayovers. "The rates held steady this winter, our airlift was good and we had more rooms available in our inventory," she said.

Inventory additions last year included the modern, 68-room Octagon wing at the Avila Hotel, the debut of the 200-room Clarion Hotel & Suites Curacao and the 38-room wing at Lions Dive & Beach Resort next to the Curacao Sea Aquarium.

The Curacao Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino added 40 tons of white sand to its beach area, opened a beach bar and added themed entertainment at its Emerald Lounge.

The multiphased renovation of the Hilton Curacao also is completed, featuring a new executive floor and lounge, meeting room redos, upgrades to the ballroom and beach bar and fresh paint on the exterior.

The Best Western villa project is open and taking reservations, although some construction is still under way.

Under construction on Willemstad's waterfront is the 240-room Renaissance Curacao Resort, to open in December.

On track is the 350-room Hyatt Regency Curacao overlooking Spanish Water Bay and the Caribbean. The 27-acre site will include not only the hotel but also a 30-slip marina, a beach club, 52 vacation club units, 128 condos, residential lots and terrace homes.

Facilities will include a casino, multilevel pool, grill, lounge, tennis courts and an 18-hole P. B. Dye championship golf course.

When the Hyatt opens in summer 2008, it will be the largest hotel on the island and the first to open since the Sonesta, now a Marriott, opened in 1992.

Also in development is a Four Points Sheraton, near Blue Bay, and a Best Western villa project.

Growth niche markets for Curacao include the gay and lesbian segment. Kleinmoedig said that Curacao as a whole "is a gay-friendly destination, and we have at least 17 properties that market to that group."

On the family front, the Sea Camp at the Curacao Aquarium is aimed at kids from 4 to 14 years old. "Dive hotels are promoting this, and it's been quite successful in the past," Kleinmoedig said.

In other news, Curacao's departure tax increased from $25 to $32 on Jan. 1. And the new $44 million Curacao Airport opened last August, designed to handle up to 1.6 million passengers a year.

Curacao's second annual Dive Festival runs May 26 to June 2. Activities include guided dives, workshops, seminars, live entertainment and night dives. Dive operators are offering packages for the festival. For details, visit www.curacaodive.com.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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For more details on this article, see "Preconceived notions waft away after trip to Curacao."

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