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Where to market our tourist product?

This article was published in Antilliaans Dagblad

Curaçao not ready for US tourists?

Gegevens 28 dec 2012 Gepubliceerd op dinsdag 29 november -0001 19:27

I am a Flemish Belgian American living in Charlotte, NC who frequently comes to Curaçao for its European flair and fully agrees with the expression ‘Curaçao is like going to Europe but without the jetlag and without the bad weather’.

In December, I took advantage of the weekly non stop flight from Insel Air from Charlotte to Curaçao. It was refreshing to take a flight without paying extra for two pieces of luggage and getting food and drinks served with a smile and having ample leg space (a thing of the past with US airlines).

While the flight had a pretty good load, I noticed that the majority of the passengers were from Latin American origin and transited through Hato Airport to cities in Venezuela and Colombia and a group of American divers transiting to Bonaire and maybe 25% actually had Curaçao as their final destination.

This seems to confirm the reported passenger numbers for Hato Airport, whereby the total number of passengers increased, while the number of passengers with final destination Curaçao stagnated. This also confirms that the average American tourist will not fly a non US airline with old MD-82 planes in an Alitalia livery. While this weekly flight seems to be good for Insel Air (also from air freight revenue I was told) and for me personally, this flight is not helping much in bringing more US tourists to Curaçao.  

However to attract more US Airlines to fly to Curacao (without costly seat guarantees), one has to first adapt the product Curacao to attract Americans. No, I do not refer to more American hotels, casinos and golf courses. There are enough of these now in Curaçao. However I am referring to:

- Infrastructure: the roads from Curaçao airports to Willemstad are in poor condition and poorly lit and create a bad first impression, especially when arriving at night. I can not imagine that any American has been impressed with the road from the airport to the Santa Barbara resort. A few new roundabouts and palm trees is a good start, but as long the rest of the roads have potholes and are poorly lit and dirty, Americans will feel unsafe and won’t come back.

- Cleanliness: Americans prefer clean streets and neighborhoods. While it is admirable to try to educate the local population to keep Curaçao clean, this needs to be complimented by regular street cleanings by the city services.

- Old ruinous empty buildings: This gives Americans a scary and insecure feeling; even worse when drug addicts approach you for money or cigarettes.

- Too few uniformed police visible on the street: especially in the tourist areas around Riffort, Punda and Jan Thiel.

- I even heard of several Americans, who did not dare to leave their hotel or even leave their cruise ship, as Curaçao was considered unsafe even in daylight.

- Last but not least, Americans like walking long clean beaches, which simply do not exist in Curaçao.

Since ‘adapting’ the product Curacao to American would be a decades long project and Curacao just does not have a seven mile long beach, it is my personal opinion that Curaçao government and the Curaçao Tourist Board should stop wasting their money on promoting Curaçao to American tourists (and try to copy Aruba) and should focus on European tourists and make them feel welcome as much as possible. Americans have plenty of choice to find safe and friendly sunny places during the winter, while Northern Europeans have limited options to spend a vacation during the winter in friendly warm places with a European feeling. The average European tourist is more adventurous and likes small beaches and charming small bays and does not mind poor infrastructure as long the sun shines and good restaurants with outdoor patio’s are plentiful.  So please foster the European airlines flying to Curacao and assist them with well funded and effective marketing campaigns.

For completeness, I want to state that Curaçao should continue to promote Willemstad to cruise companies. Curaçao is one of the most impressive port of calls and one of the few where you can dock in the middle of a picturesque city. This is certainly good for the city center business and tourist attractions. Just don’t expect that any of these cruise tourists will come back for weeklong vacation on the island, as cruise tourists tends to be older and even less adventurous than the average tourist.

Since I also have traveled frequently to many South American countries for business and pleasure I would also like to share my opinion on your effort to attract tourists from that region. Here again focus on northern part of South America (Venezuela, Colombia… who like to vacation in a close by place with a European feel, but please don’t waste your marketing money on the Southern part of South America, who have plenty of beaches and plenty of European charm at home. I can not come up with one reason why a Brazilian would pick Curaçao as a vacation destiny.

Dany Claeys,

currently in Curaçao on vacation,

Charlotte, NC

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