One of the great destinations of the Caribbean is ready to welcome Canadians.
Curacao opened its borders to Canada and a series of other world countries on July 1 following what can only be described as a superb job fighting COVID-19.
The island nation of 160,000 people had only 23 cases of the virus, and only one person died, Curacao Tourist Board CEO Paul Pennicook said in an exclusive interview with TravelPulse Canada.
Curacao was able to open its borders on June 12 to Aruba, Bonaire and Caribbean countries under Dutch control, including St. Bart’s and Sint Maarten. Visitors from the Netherlands itself, as well as France, Canada and other “safe” countries, were allowed as of Canada Day.
There’s no date yet in sight for arrivals from the U.S. or South America, as both areas are still on an upward trajectory for coronavirus cases.
“We’re not willing to take the risk,” he said. “We want to see them on the downside of cases. We’re a small island and our health care capacity is limited. We’ve added ventilators and ICU spaces but it’s still a limited amount.”
“We’re doing this very carefully,” Pennicook said. “A PCR test is required before people can come here, and it has to be within 72 hours of their departure. Passenger locator cards also have to be filled out with your travel history and health situation.”
There’s also a general information card that tourists have always had to fill out, he said.
All those documents must be submitted online before anyone hops on a plane for Curacao.
“If there’s any information to red flag, we get it before someone gets here,” Pennicook said. “If you get a positive test, you don’t travel.”
There also, of course, are mask requirements at the airport and protocols in place for transportation, hotels and other places where visitors would go.
Curacao also has a new “Dushi App” (Dushi means “sweet” or “fantastic” in the local language of Papiamento) that provides a welcome message, as well as a link to detailed protocols, emergency numbers and more.
Pennicook said insurance is optional for tourists, but visitors who don’t have any have to sign a form that indemnifies the Curacao government from any health costs that might arise.
There are no flights from Canada now, so the decision to allow Canadians is a bit of a moot point. But Pennicook said he’s talking with Air Canada and hopes to have flights with AC or Air Canada Vacations in August.
“Even if we start in August it would probably be just once a week,” he said. “Things don’t really pick up here until November or so.”
Pennicook said around 24,000 Canadians visited the island last year, putting Canada in the top seven for incoming tourism markets.
“This past winter we had four flights a week from Toronto with Air Canada, one from Toronto with WestJet and two a week from Montreal with Air Canada.”
Asked what visitors might find in Curacao that’s different from their last trip, Pennicook said social distancing rules are being strictly enforced.
“You’ll find posters in establishments reminding people to observe social distancing, to wash their hands, and such. You’ll also find food service might be slightly different. At the moment there’s no buffets. When they come back, the food will be covered and servers will be helping customers.”
Pennicook said the tourism board put on workshops so industry workers could understand the new reality they’re faced with.
Tours and attractions, as well as about 60% of the island’s hotels, are open now, Pennicook said. “There are other hotels ready to open but we need to wait for arrivals to reach a certain level.”
There are definitely new rules in place, but it’s still the Curacao visitors have come to love; with a fascinating history, amazing beaches, cool neighborhoods, great resorts and fabulous nature to explore.
“As much as possible the practitioners have tried to make things as normal as possible so people can still have a fine holiday,” Pennicook said.