Paul Pennicook, CEO of the Curacao Tourist Board, recently shared an interesting year-to-date report regarding stayover and cruise numbers, upcoming hotel openings and an assessment of the destination's year-old agent specialist program.
"We're very pleased with Curacao's numbers," Pennicook said. "Through April, stayovers were up 17% year-to-date, to 127,156 visitors, and cruise passengers numbered 278,105, up 6% over the same period a year ago."
From North America, the Q1 stayover count totaled more than 42,000 visitors, a 21% jump from a year ago at the same time.
Within the U.S., the Number 1 source market is the New York area, followed by Florida and the Carolinas, with Charlotte as a major hub.
Pennicook attributed much of the growth in visitors to the successful implementation of Curacao's five-year tourism master plan, which launched in 2018 and targets both emerging and established markets.
"We hadn't really gotten the word out before that Curacao is a hidden gem, but our strategies appear to be working: to create greater awareness of the destination and higher visibility for Curacao through a combination of online marketing, use of influencers and bloggers and themed press visits to target curated topics such as wellness, cuisine and water sports, including our numerous dive and snorkel sites," he said.
He had high praise for the year-old Curacao Agent Reward Program, a collaboration between Curacao Airport Partners, the Curacao Hospitality & Tourism Association and the Curacao Tourist Board.
"We are bullish on getting agents trained and up to date on all developments in Curacao that will help them sell the destination," he said. "The program currently has 900 agents enrolled. We're able to collect data on which agents and agencies are currently selling Curacao, we offer training sessions and we host fam trips at more than 17 properties that are participating in the reward program."
A Curacao Reward retreat will take place later this summer to recognize the destination's top producing agents for their support and bookings.
Pennicook reported strong development in the hotel sector, starting with the upcoming reopening on Sept. 18 of the 328-room Curacao Marriott Beach Resort on Piscadera Bay, west of the cruise pier.
"The property has been closed for three years but now it has been stripped down, completely redone, and 70 rooms have been added to bring the room count to 336," he said.
The 237-room Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino is in the midst of a renovation and upgrade program slated for completion in December. The restaurant, lobby area and casino will be finished by August, with the guest rooms to follow.
The all-inclusive, family-friendly Dreams Resort & Casino (formerly the Hilton) will close in September and reopen in mid-December, following renovations and upgrades.
In Q1 2020, the all-inclusive Corendon Beach Resort Curacao, on the site of the former Holiday Beach complex near Willemstad harbor, will open its first phase of 400 rooms. With the second phase planned for 2021, room count will then total 800 rooms, making it the largest hotel in Curacao.
Corendon Hotels & Resorts, a Dutch-based company that is part of the Corendon Group, also has the Livingstone Jan Thiel Resort in Curacao as well as properties in Holland, Spain and Turkey.
"Curacao currently has 7,700 hotel rooms of which 50% are in hotels and resorts and the other 50% include apartments, villas and bungalows," Pennicook said. "Airbnb has become a big market for us, with 21,000 North American visitors staying in Airbnb properties in 2018."
With the hotel sector growing, Pennicook said that "it is logical to look for more airlift." The destination is served by American with two flights a day from Miami and weekly from Charlotte; JetBlue has three flights a week from New York Kennedy; and there are flights from Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Colombia and Panama, he said, "but I want more airlift from all our markets."
Europe, particularly the Netherlands, is Curacao's primary feeder market, followed by the U.S. and Canada.
He's pleased with the growth in cruise business with 750,000 passengers disembarking in Q1 alone and predicted that "we will do even better in the upcoming cruise season."
As for overtourism in Willemstad when several ships are in port at the same time, Pennicook said that "we're watching this."
"Many passengers go on tours and the rest walk around town, so overcrowding is not an issue. As for the stayover visitors, several of our hotels are in areas that can easily accommodate more visitors without any problems."
The upcoming event calendar includes the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival Aug. 29 to 31, the Curacao Pride Festival Sept. 25 to 29 and the International Dive Festival Sept. 29 to Oct. 5.
"Curacao has much to offer our visitors. With the help of our agent specialists and our focus on our source markets as well as our newer markets, we're getting noticed in big ways," Pennicook said.
"We're targeting 475,000 stayover visitors this year, up from the 430,000 we welcomed in 2018. We are definitely on track to do this."