WILLEMSTAD - Amid challenging times for Curaçao, particularly in the financial sector, some encouraging news is emerging from the tourism industry. Around Curaçao, construction projects for hotels, including not just small hotels but substantial ones, and luxurious apartments for visitors are evident. This sector is becoming, if it's not already, the most crucial economic pillar of Curaçao.
To explore these developments further, Chronicle sought the opportunity to interview Mr. Hugo Clarinda, the director of the Curaçao Tourist Board (CTB).
Clarina in his office
Clarinda explained that in late June, they initiated direct flights from Azul in Brazil. The CTB and the airline commenced marketing these flights before the inauguration, and this route has been an outright success. From the onset of these flights, it was clear that this could become a significant market for Curaçao tourism.
"By the end of July, we had already exceeded 2,900 tourists from Brazil. This result was achieved in less than a month, compared to the previous monthly average of 700 to 900 tourists," Clarinda explained.
Before the introduction of direct flights from Brazil, travelers had to go through Panama or Colombia to reach Curaçao. Azul has significantly streamlined the process for passengers to reach Curaçao. According to Clarinda, tourists continue to visit Curaçao via Panama and Colombia as well, and these routes are also showing growth. "So, the growth in visitors from Brazil is not solely due to Azul but also the connections," Clarinda emphasized.
"By September, we are projected to surpass 2,000 travelers from Brazil again. Therefore, the Brazilian market is of great importance to CTB and Curaçao. Just to provide an idea, this market is expected to bring in approximately 20,000 visitors per year, compared to 10,000 in the previous year, effectively doubling the figures," Clarinda elaborated. CTB will continue to capitalize on this growth through essential marketing strategies. For instance, Curaçao features on the cover of the airline's inflight magazine, and the island has hosted several online influencers with substantial followings.
Regarding plans with Azul, Clarinda expressed that they are substantial. In the latter half of October, the airline has scheduled an increase in the frequency of flights to Curaçao. Currently, the flights operate once a week but will transition to twice a week. Throughout 2024, there will be two Azul flights per week, with the possibility of further expansion. This continued focus on the Brazilian market is expected to provide an economic boost to Curaçao.
Clarinda also discussed the Venezuelan market, which used to be the second-largest market for Curaçao after the Netherlands. Several factors contributed to the weakening of the Venezuelan market since 2015, including their domestic economic situation, the absence of reliable airlines for passenger transport, and the subsequent closure of the border between Curaçao and Venezuela. Curaçao used to receive an average of 100,000 Venezuelan tourists per year, which dwindled to around 3,000.
"Adapting to these changes, we shifted our focus to Brazil and Colombia," Clarinda stated.
Concerning the Colombian market, Clarinda explained that Curaçao has experienced significant growth there as well. Since Venezuela effectively exited the market in 2016, Curaçao has welcomed 31,000 visitors from Colombia annually.
"While the Brazilian and Colombian markets have not yet surpassed the figures Venezuela used to bring in, we are on the right track. CTB is optimistic that these two markets will help fill the void left by Venezuela in the tourism sector," Clarinda emphasized.
"In this year alone, we have already received 30,000 visitors from Colombia and 20,000 from Brazil, accounting for half of what Venezuela used to contribute before. However, this is just the beginning, and we are witnessing remarkable success with these two markets," Clarinda highlighted.
CTB, however, remains committed to Venezuela. Clarinda noted that there has been growth, especially after the borders reopened. Airlines such as Laser and operate on these routes, and despite a somewhat slow start, the flights are generally well-occupied. In October, Airlines will commence operations on these routes, with Rutaca likely to join soon.
While these airlines may not be as prominent and influential as Copa and Avianca, they have been in operation for many years and maintain a relative stability. This allows them to contribute to the resurgence of the Venezuelan market, although it may not reach the previous levels due to Venezuela's economic constraints. Nevertheless, it marks a promising beginning.
"Just to provide an idea, at the beginning of this year, we received approximately 100 Venezuelans per month, and with the airlines now serving these routes, the numbers have surged to 900 passengers per month, as of August. For September, we are anticipating a thousand visitors. While many come for the American visa, there are those who come to enjoy the island," Clarinda concluded.