The Caribbean island of Curaçao has seen a surge in tourism this year with a record of more than 400,000 visitors in the first 10 months of the year. Significant among this rise is the number of American tourists visiting. In October, the island reported 9,166 American visitors—more than double the 4,040 Americans that came to the destination in October 2019, according to the country’s tourism board.
An important factor in the rise in American tourism is the opening of Sandals Royal Curaçao in June. Hotel Business spoke with Adam Stewart, executive chairman, Sandals Resorts, about why they chose to open the brand’s first resort there—and what it means for the country.
Why did Sandals decide to open a resort in Curaçao?
My father, the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart, and I visited Curaçao on a business trip a decade ago and fell in love with so many aspects of the island—from its endearing, hard-working and honest people to its colorful culture, dynamic terrains and so much more in between. That fateful trip cemented our dream and vision to one day proudly plant a Sandals flag here—what would eventually become our first home in the Dutch Caribbean. The resort itself had this unique appeal to it with its idyllic, west-facing location, vast open spaces and beautiful ocean and bay views. Serendipitously enough, during our grand opening weekend, I stayed in the very room I was booked in during our initial trip to the island. It was a full-circle moment and a testament to how a dream, with enough tenacity and the perfect timing, can become a reality.
What was it about the island that attracted you?
We were immensely inspired by the island’s natural beauty and culture, the way locals and visitors alike engage with it, and the potential to further immerse our guests in the most unique aspects of the destination. The island—with its adventurous terrain, its limestone caves, spectacular sunsets, incredible diving sites and its vibrant capital city—inspired so many of the “Sandals Firsts” that debuted here.
In fact, our affinity for its vibrant flavors inspired the creation of our brand new “Island Inclusive” dining program where we connect our guests with the local chefs and business owners, creating the opportunity to dine off-site—all included with their stay—completely redefining what it means to be all-inclusive. Access to MINI Coopers for guests in select suites quite literally drives guests to bask in the open roads that lead to hidden caves and beaches and the colorful, Dutch-inspired capital of Willemstad. There is so much to do and see and taste and feel here, and we wanted to authentically incorporate as much of that as possible into the Sandals Royal Curaçao experience.
What does Sandals opening on the island mean for Curaçao—from its people to its economy?
When we plant a flag in a new destination, we bring with us the full might of the Sandals Resorts brand—from increased air lift and new opportunities for local business owners like farmers and taxi drivers to using the power of our Sandals Foundation to create positive change in local communities, and even our connection with the global travel trade community that helps drive and boost tourism and business.
Sandals Resorts remains the largest private employer in the Caribbean, a title we are proud to claim. Our destinations are those that thrive off tourism, not just rely upon it. Our continued expansion and growth greatly benefit the local economies of our destinations and the well-being of our team members and neighbors. Our plan forward is many-fold as we work to carry the Caribbean forward, forever our home.
Sandals is known for its community outreach. How are you working to help the Curaçao community?
When it comes to our communities in the Caribbean, we have a great responsibility to take care of our islands and our people. Curaçao being a new island for Sandals, we also saw this as a great opportunity to expand our impact.
When we opened the doors of Sandals Royal Curaçao, we also announced the launch of our newest philanthropic program, Future Goals—a unique program that turns fishing nets sourced from the ocean and recycled plastic waste into soccer goals for children in partnership with the Netherlands’ AFC Ajax professional soccer team and local Curaçaon plastic recycling company, Limpi. If we can give children the tools to play and in the process teach them about protecting our planet—that is a “goal” in and of itself.