What happened with the KLM flights to Curaçao once again illustrates how vulnerable tourism can be. In this case, 70% of the island’s visitors come from the Netherlands.
They do so with airlines TUI and KLM, but the latter suddenly canceled a second daily flight for much of its only-recently-announced winter schedule. This occurred just days after news that Curaçao was the fourth biggest distant destination from Schiphol Airport, which is where the problem lies.
The international airport near Amsterdam cannot handle the crowds due to a lack of personnel and reduced the number of passengers carriers may provide. Eliminating the second flight during the next five months except for the holiday period December 19 to January 8 means 320 fewer seats per day or 36,000 in total, which translates to at least 60 million Netherlands Antillean guilders in lost revenues.
Partly because of the late notice, viable alternatives are not easy to find either. TUI faces similar issues at Schiphol and arranging extra airlift with others such as Air Belgium from Brussels will take time.
Curaçao Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas discussed the matter with Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Alexandra van Huffelen, but was basically referred to the airline that is an autonomous private sector company in which government cannot intervene. Moreover, KLM has become a subsidiary of Air France.
Hopefully, a way to mitigate this situation can be agreed on in the interest of the island and its people as well as the entire monetary union with St. Maarten, in terms of the balance of payments and foreign exchange reserves. With the Isla refinery yet to reopen, borders with neighboring Venezuela still closed, and investments to boost the troubled ship-repair business only now starting, this seems about the last thing Curaçao needed.
The lesson to be learned is the importance of diversification, not just by promoting different economic sectors but within tourism itself. Efforts to attract guests for “The Friendly Island” from regions other than its traditional main source markets North America and Western Europe should continue unabated, to effectively spread the risk and make the hospitality industry less seasonal in the process.