Welcoming wellness travelers in Curaçao

Wellness is one of the world’s fastest-growing, most resilient markets. It is the next trillion dollar industry. And yet, the majority of opportunities in wellness still await the individual entrepreneur.

,,There has never been a better time to start,” says the creator of Wellfest Curaçao and the Wellness Farm Korra Pieters-Juliana, referring to the new national decree on the development of an Economic Zone for non-medical treatments and wellness initiatives. ,,We need to brand Curaçao as a wellness destination.”

Starting a wellness business creates a strong opportunity to make a lot of money. Due to fundamental changes in the world economy, in technology, and new legislations favoring the individual over the organization millions of people have managed to increase their wealth. And the more people increase their wealth, the greater proportion of their wealth they spend on wellness. Osean Vision’s director Korra Pietersz-Juliana is a firm believer of tourism as an important pillar of sustainable economic development in Curaçao. ,,The question we need to ask ourselves is: what kind of tourist do we want to attract?” The average tourist in Curacao doesn’t spend more than a hundred dollars a day, she says. ,,Whereas wellness travelers want to improve their life while they discover the island. They want to explore, experience a culture authentically, eat the best local food, relax, detox, and improve their health and wellbeing. A wellness traveler typically spends a lot more money, and apart from that adds value in helping to preserve nature and our surroundings.”  

Curaçao has a lot to offer, there are endless possibilities to provide visitors with a unique experience, says Pietersz-Juliana. ,,It is a pity that a lot of people in Curacao don’t see this. We, as Curaçaoans, tend to look at other countries, we import products and ideas, we often copy others, but what works elsewhere might not work here. It is important for us to acknowledge our self-worth, and start working with what we have. The moment we decide to focus on well-being, everyone will see that our country has plenty to offer.’’

She talks vividly about the importance of reviving the history and culture of the island, renewing traditional practices of healing, using herbal medicine. Reintroduce the kurandero (medicine man) and mama haladó (woman who gives a specific therapeutic ‘massage’). ,,I am searching for a mama haladó, I know she is out there, somewhere, and am eager to work with her and learn from her. It would be such a shame if all this ancient knowledge is lost with old age, we need to preserve it for future generations.”

Some might argue that for many elders the fabric of early life was defined by a struggle against poverty and hunger, and a family history of slavery. The tangible and important progress that has been made in human wealth and welfare has given us more health, more discretionary income, more food, and more free time. ,,You can rest assured that I too love modern life, I enjoy luxury,” says Pietersz-Juliana, stating that we can’t allow ourselves to lose sight of the past. ,,We live in a divided society.  Social changes are changing the way people act with each other. Often people lose a sense of purpose and contribution.  Honoring your past, knowing where you come from, can help seek deeper self-connection and reflection.  We, as a nation, also go through a healing process. In addition to meditation, yoga, our ancient healing practices, our rituals, provide some level of clarity that allow us to better connect with ourselves and the world around us.”

She is most passionate about anything to do with nature and the simple things. Spending time with her family and friends, taking walks, like she used to do as a child, with her dad, Elis Juliana, who said: ,,Nothing is of greater value than simplicity… always remain true to yourself.” He was born in Monte Verde, an impoverished neighborhood near Punda, and was named Elis with one ‘l’ because his parents didn’t have the money to pay for a double ‘l’. They couldn’t afford to send him to school; he taught himself all kinds of crafts and skills and started to work at the Shell oil refinery. When able to provide for a family, he started to write verses. Curaçao remembers Elis Juliana as esteemed poet, but to his daughter he was so much more. ,,Dad taught himself all he knew, he trusted his instincts, had broad tastes and curiosity. He would take us on hikes in different parts of the island to look for nature’s treasures, inspecting stone formations and things we found along the way. He was a self-taught archeologist and anthropologist. Co-founder of  National Archaelogical Anthropological Memory Management (NAAM), where his collections are displayed.”  NAAM is home of the ‘Zinkinza’ collection,  one of the most highly valuable treasures, according to NAAM-director Ieteke Witteveen: ,,In the fifties and sixties, for more than six years,  Father Paul Brenneker and Elis Juliana collected more than 1,400 songs, pieces of music, stories and events of the people of Curaçao. The result is a collection that can be considered the soul of 20th century Curaçao.”  

Elis Juliana inspired to enrich ourselves mentally with cultural gems and be proud of our heritage. His daughter aspires to do the same, using modern day communication systems, showing the economic value of the island’s community of multilingual, talented, highly spiritual people who, despite of differences in personal opinions, collectively contribute to the fact that Curaçao is a place where you can just be who you are. Lenny Kravitz and other world famous stars commented that they strolled around the island without being followed by a herd of fans and could just relax, be themselves.

,,We need to monetize our worth,” says Korra Pietersz-Juliana, who visited Las Vegas to check out the different wellness options the hotels are offering. ,,It’s actually very simple: put natural soaps and cosmetics in the bathrooms, provide organic bath towels, bamboo bed sheets, make sure that the rooms smell fresh and natural, fill the fridge with healthy food and drinks, and provide curtains that can fully darken a room for people to have a good night’s rest. Here’s your wellness package.” Travelers are willing to pay good money for it, she says, having studied and analyzed wellness trends around the world for the past seven years, comparing options, packages, service and prices. ,,Any hotel or resort in Curaçao can do this, and also offer a menu of different wellness activities for guests to choose from. Like biking, hiking trips, massage therapy in nature, workshops and so on.”

Pietersz-Juliana suggests restaurants in Curacao add a section to their menu with wellness food options: organic, pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan, raw food, gluten free and options for guests with lactose intolerance. ,,Make wellness part of your business concept,” she says. ,,It is fairly easy, and doesn’t require a large investment. If we do this collectively, Curaçao can be branded as a wellness destination and will be able to attract wellness travelers who genuinely want to explore our culture, have a unique experience that adds value to their lives. Offering healing holidays will do all of us good.”