Hyatt Pioneers Curacao Tourism

The Hyatt Curacao’s Great Room offers an enchanting view of the Caribbean.

The first thing you notice about the Hyatt Regency Curacao Golf Resort, Spa and Marina is check-in. It’s really remote: It takes place at the airport in Willemstadt, the bustling city (and United Nations Heritage site) at the heart of Curacao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles. Curacao is between the better-publicized island of Aruba and the island of Bonaire.

Check-in is seamless, as is the hour-long, 25-mile shuttle ride to the property, a tawny, low-slung, 350-unit complex that includes the championship, 18-hole Old Quarry golf course, the largest meeting space on this island 37 miles north of Venezuela, upscale retail, white sand beaches and three restaurants. The most elegant is Medi, a casual, stylish eatery stressing local cuisine (though 60 percent of the food is imported).

Located on 27 acres of the 1,500-acre master-planned Santa Barbara Plantation resort community, the Hyatt Regency stands apart—literally. It’s a few minutes’ ride from the entrance to the complex to the lobby itself.

As befits a luxury resort in the Caribbean, the colors are bright: yellow, orange, beige predominate. The public spaces are large, the ceilings high, and most guestrooms, equipped with the latest in technology including effective Wi-Fi, have ocean views. During a trip there in late May, the hotel was busy; construction crews still were preparing the beachfront in front of Swim, the most casual (and aquatically oriented) of the complex’s three restaurants. In addition, only 180 of the 350 guestrooms were open; the balance will be ready to go by the official opening toward the end of July.

“We have a very specific agenda day by day” until then, Diego Concha, the general manager, says. “There is no reason for us not to be fully ready.” The hotel opened soft on April 20, and, he says, business has been healthy. That’s not surprising considering the introductory rate of $199 (good through mid-December); during the peak weeks of Dec. 22 to Jan. 4, rates will be $300 to $700, with the presidential suite going for more than $1,000, he says.

Concha also was involved in the 2008 opening of the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, a convention hotel. “Trinidad is a business island,” he says. “Curacao is a resort destination.” Labor has been a challenge in Curacao; more than 100 employees on his 350-person staff are imports, and, he noted, work is under way to beef-up Curacao’s tourism culture.

“The future of Curacao is huge,” Concha says. “It has a strong culture, strong roots, and the options are quite interesting.” That’s not surprising considering it’s an island of about 145,000 in which many residents speak four languages: Dutch, the official one; Spanish, English and the local tongue, Papiamento, a kind of Creole.

The local touch comes through with particular softness in Atabei Spa, a 4,500-square-foot section of the hotel featuring four treatment rooms (each with an outside, rainhead shower) and amenities made from indigenous ingredients; there are herbal farms on the island, including one dedicated to aloe. Children three to 12 years old can participate in Camp Arawak, a program of eco-friendly activities including instruction in recycling.

The Curacao Tourism Board has stepped-up its marketing push, particularly toward the U.S. The effort has benefited from the opening of two new properties (the other is a 230-room Renaissance that debuted last year) and the addition of a second daily American Airlines flight from Miami. As a result, through April arrivals from North America were up 31 percent in 2010.

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