Historic Otrabanda waterfront, downtown Willemstad. (Larry Luxner)
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of stories on Caribbean tourism. Read the previous stories here.
Economic difficulties in Curaçao — the largest Dutch-speaking island in the recently dissolved Netherlands Antilles confederation — as well as political uncertainty in nearby Venezuela, are affecting retailers ahead of a planned hike in the country’s sales tax on luxury products such as perfumes, jewelery and electronics from 6 percent to 9 percent.
Shopkeepers in Willemstad’s colorful Punda waterfront district say the end result is that Curaçao’s Central Bank will receive less foreign currency from tourists, and that sales tax revenue will actually decline as a result. They say only shops on board cruise ships would benefit, since the ships would be exempt from such a tax — possibly pushing tourists to fellow Dutch-speaking island Aruba, where the sales there is only 1.5 percent.
“Retailers are absorbing the 6 percent sales tax from our margins to sustain the duty free price structure, but with a 9 percent sales tax, it will be an impossible burden to bear,” warned Meena Hemrajani of Le Rouge International B.V.
On May 6, normally peaceful Curaçao was jolted by the assassination of a popular politician. Helmin Wiels of the Pueblo Soberano [Sovereign People] Party was killed in a drive-by shooting while he was buying fish at a market in Willemstad. With his death, the coalition government — with a one-seat hold on power — has been plunged into crisis.
In the midst of such uncertainty, Le Rouge International will soon open a 310-square-meter shop under the name “The Yellow House / La Casa Amarilla” in the heart of the Willemstad shopping district. The expanded outlet will offer perfumes, cosmetics, skin-care products, watches, fashion jewelry, sunglasses and handbags all under one roof.
A Curaçao court has denied a bid by Hyatt Corp. and Hyatt Curaçao NV to resume control of the former Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa & Marina.
In December, Santa Barbara Hospitality NV removed Hyatt as manager of the resort, and renamed the property as the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curaçao. The company installed Benchmark Hospitality International as the property manager and announced Jan. 29 that it was open for business under the new name.
William Brewer, a lawyer for Santa Barbara, said: “In our client’s view, Hyatt had proven that it was incapable of managing this property in accordance with the terms of the management agreement.” Benchmark now manages the 350-room resort, which has 38,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and banquet space.
The owner claimed that under Hyatt’s management, the resort missed 2011 revenue projections by almost $12 million, and that occupancy rates were 44 percent, about 22 percent lower than expected. Both revenue and occupancy were lower than projected in 2012 as well, said the owner.
Smith Travel Research said in a report that in the 12-month period ending Oct. 30, 2012, occupancy at the resort was only 53 percent vs. almost 80 percent for the properties against which it competes. The average daily room rate in 2012 was $182.65, compared to $238.58 for its competitors, STR said.
Larry Luxner is a freelance writer with The Washington Diplomat and former editor of CubaNews. Born and raised in Miami and now based in Israel, Larry has reported from every country in the Western Hemisphere. His specialty is Latin America and the Middle East, and he’s written more than 2,000 articles for publications ranging from National Journal to Saudi Aramco World. Larry also runs an Internet-based stock photo agency at www.luxner.com.