A Great Loss for Curaçao: Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort

This post started out as a raving review of my stay at the Hyatt Curaçao earlier this month.  Unfortunately, as I was writing this post I learned  that the owners of the property had ousted Hyatt in a middle of the night koo.

Sadly, this is a great loss for travelers.   My stay at the Hyatt Curaçao was hands down the best stay that I've ever had.  The resort and its staff were perfect and worked together like a well oiled machine.   Unfortunately, all that was lost when the owners ousted the existing management and brought in a whole new management team.  The owners have made a mistake, the perfection and chemistry that Hyatt had with it's staff and management is not something one can recreate with a new management team.   By replacing the management team, they've removed the foundation that built such an amazing organization.

Situations like this are rare, but not unique, however in the end the losers are always the travelers.   Aside from the lack of consistency and the loss of trust to the travelers, in most documented cases, the owners end up having to pay a substantial fee to the ousted management company for breach of contract.  With owners so focused on financial performance, they aren't going to eat the cost of the fee, so it will get passed onto the travelers.  Two recent cases involved what is now the Park Hyatt in Carlsbad, CA where Four Seasons was ousted in 2009 and a second case with the Waikiki Edition hotel which ousted Marriott last year, in both cases, the management company walked away with a large chunk of cash after being ousted.

The owners claim that the property was operating at a loss and that Hyatt was not managing the property poorly.  The owners believe that the property should summon $350 a night and I know my stay was $169 a night.   Even at that rate, the occupancy rate allegedly hovered around 50%.   So why is the property so undervalued and yet still empty?   Easy, Curaçao is not easy to get to and prices aren't exactly cheap.  Unlike neighboring Aruba which has dozens of flights year round, Curaçao has two flights from the states that year round operated by American.  United has seasonal service during the summer, but that runs for about 6-8 weeks, nothing extensive.   Due to the limited options, flight prices are also higher thus limiting the potential clientele further.   For me, the only reason I ended up at this hotel was because of the incredible rate and knowing it was a Hyatt, if it wasn't for those two things I would have never even ended up here.

The owners have appointed a company called "Benchmark Hospitality" based out of Houston to manage the property.   They have renamed the property the "Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort Curaçao".  Benchmark seems to have a number of properties scattered around, but doesn't have the type of visibility a large corporation such as Hyatt or Starwood have.  With the loss of the global visibility, access to that chain's frequent travelers is also lost -- my case is a great example of this, if this property hadn't been a Hyatt, it never even would have been an option.  Benchmark has made claims that they are going to turn the property around and help meet the owner's objectives, but that is likely doomed for failure given the reduction in potential clientele (with the loss of the Global name and it's loyalty program) and the limited transport options. 

To Hyatt, the loss of this property is more than I can express, I cannot say enough about how great it was.   To the owners, you are very short sighted and have no idea what you have killed.  And lastly, to anyone considering visiting this property, don't.   There's no reason to support this type of ownership and management, there are other properties on the island, they deserve your business more.

This property was the best managed property ever.  Period.  I've never had a stay this amazing and i'm sad to see it be wiped away.


D December 28, 2012 at 11:19 am

We will be staying here for three nights, unless the new management company decides that they aren't going to honor our award booking in four weeks. I have no interest in any other property for an award stay on Curacao, so we will live dangerously I guess.

Fozz M December 28, 2012 at 11:45 am

D: Have you confirmed with Hyatt that it will be ok? I know on their website they have a big yellow banner saying if you have an upcoming stay to call them.

@D: I suspect all award bookings are cancelled.

@Fozz: Don't be so quick to judge new management. The finances clearly weren't working as ownership anticipated. Maybe the property is inaccessible, perhaps Hyatt did a bad job (or too expensive of a job), or some combination of both. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, ownership thinks they have a better way forward...and they're putting their money where their mouth is at least. Perhaps they'll position it more upmarket than Hyatt...or perhaps lower, and get more group visits, etc. Regardless of how much you or anyone likes a property, ownership is typically happy when they get a check at the end of the month...which I suspect wasn't happening here...so time for a change. Time will tell.

Mr. M - this is Alex Cabanas, President of Benchmark Hospitality. Good morning. Thank you for giving such a rave review of the on-site property team. You should know that the majority of the employees who delivered your experience remain with Benchmark and are employees of ownership. We look forward to continuing and if anything improving the excellent experience offered by the island of Curacao and the amazing property built by ownership. I am sure you can understand my concern that you have already judged the property based solely on the removal of Hyatt - ironic that the other instance of management removal you quoted as a disaster involved Hyatt replacing Four Seasons. While situations like this are not easy, we are working to ensure that every guest experience is equal to or better, not worse because of this decision. In fact, I will welcome you back to the new Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort personally. I hope you will accept my invitation.

Mr. D - regarding your visit, I assume by your post that you have booked your stay using passport points. If you booked prior to the transition date, we look forward to welcoming you and honoring your stay as planned. If you wish to email me direct, I would enjoy making sure that your stay is nothing short of exceptional.

D December 31, 2012 at 08:37 pm

Here is an email(partial) they sent us today. We will continue to monitor the situation, but are reasonably confident we have a room for three nights later in January.

Dear Guest:

We look forward to welcoming you to the island of Curaçao and the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. You may have recently heard about exciting changes at our property. On December 15, 2012, the resort owner proudly welcomed Benchmark Hospitality International to manage the resort and changed the name of the property to the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, Curaçao. (The resort was previously managed by Hyatt under the name Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa and Marina.)

In accordance with your existing reservation with us, all your reservations made at the property are still confirmed. While this resort is now being managed as part of Benchmark's luxury portfolio, there is no change in rates nor to the cost of your reservation.

Fozz M January 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm

@Mr. Cabanas, thank you for your note. I do wish that you can keep the experience as it was, but given the situation, I don't agree with the owners decision and thus doubt I will be returning.

Definitely kudos to your team for keeping redemption bookings in tact after the transition.

Thank you

D February 12, 2013 at 03:56 pm

We had no problems with our Hyatt award stay here last month. Mr Cabanas had put a note in our reservation, (though I certainly hope that anyone else with a Hyatt award booking would be similarly treated, even without the note). While we certainly enjoyed our stay, we will not return, unless it reverts back to Hyatt management.

D February 13, 2013 at 09:11 am

A follow-up to my earlier posts, we did have our Hyatt award stay last month. Mr Cabanas left a note in our reservation for our arrival. We enjoyed the property and our stay. Unless they return to Hyatt management, we will not return however.

If you consider that they made a mistake, you could learn something of it. You could also consider returning to the island, maybe things just seem worse from the outside. Another option could be trying another accommodation. After all, Curacao's charm doesn't consist entirely on the quality of your accommodation.