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The first thing visitors will notice when they step into Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort's grand, open-air lobby is the expansive oceanfront view which, on especially clear days, provides a glimpse of Venezuela’s coast. But it was the warm, welcoming service that I experienced from the moment I arrived (a member of the staff offered me a blue Curacao liqueur cocktail before I even finished checking in) that really made my time on Curacao memorable.
“The natural personality of Curacao’s residents is absolutely amazing,” said John MacMullen, director of sales and marketing at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. “Anyone can have a beach or a golf course, but can you get that feeling of genuine hospitality from the staff and residents? Not always –– we’re special in that right.”
Formerly operated by Hyatt, the resort came under new management in 2012 and was rebranded as the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. MacMullen and his team have been working to get Santa Barbara recognized in the marketplace as an independent luxury resort in Curacao.
Curacao’s Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort features two pools overlooking the Caribbean Sea. // © 2014 Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Designed by the famous golf course architect Pete Dye, the Old Quarry Golf Course offers 18 challenging holes. // © 2014 Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Many of the resort’s 350 deluxe rooms provide beachside views of the channel between the resort’s marinas and the Caribbean Sea. // © 2014 Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Tafelberg Tennis Oasis contains the Caribbean region’s only HydroGrid clay courts. // © 2014 Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Tafelberg (Table Mountain) is home to the mine that supplied the resort’s limestone floors and the name for the Old Quarry Golf Course. // © 2014 Cody Geib
The hour-long hike along Meditation Trail provides stunning views of the resort’s 27-acre property. // © 2014 Cody Geib
One of the resort’s recreation agents, Maurice Wright, displays an example of the island’s native prickly pear cacti. // © 2014 Cody Geib
Guests can lounge on the resort’s 1,500-foot stretch of white-sand beach as yachts pass to and from the marinas. // © 2014 Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Ocean Encounters’ on-site dive and water sports center rents out kayaks and paddleboards. // © 2014 Cody Geib
With 350 deluxe rooms, including 25 luxury suites, and more than 36,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for meetings and events –– not to mention an array of activities and restaurants available on property –– the resort is able to accommodate a variety of travelers.
“The beautiful thing about Santa Barbara is that, because of its size, it has the capability to offer everything from conventions with up to 600 people to a romantic vacation with just you and your spouse,” MacMullen said.
A big part of the resort’s appeal –– for business and leisure travelers alike –– is the Old Quarry Golf Course. Even if you’re not a golfer, it’s hard not to admire Santa Barbara’s sprawling 18-hole course, which stretches across property’s beautiful 27 acres and around its marinas. The course was designed by the world-renowned golf course architect Pete Dye, but it somehow remains off the beaten path as a golf destination –– a boon to guests hitting the links.
“When it comes to how we compare with other golf resorts in the Caribbean, I think that we have a huge value proposition here because we’re not as recognized as an iconic destination,” MacMullen said. “Because of that, we provide a great experience without breaking the bank.”
Selling Santa Barbara Vacations
As Curacao experiences an uptick in tourism, MacMullen sees travel agents as integral to the success of the island and Santa Barbara.
The resort has a reservations team, a guest relations coordinator who checks on high-profile guests and a director of leisure travel who regularly calls travel agents to gather feedback about clients’ vacation experiences –– all with the goal of building trust with agents.
“We make sure that travel agents remain our partners and that their reputation is secure,” MacMullen said. “If their client has a bad vacation, that reflects on the agent’s reputation in the industry. To be a true industry partner, we have to make sure that we protect our agents at all costs.”
Part of that trust involves working with agents to find the best fit for their clients, even if that means directing them somewhere else. MacMullen said he believes that there is enough business for everyone and that increasing the visibility of the island is a cooperative effort.
“What’s good for the island is good for Santa Barbara,” MacMullen said. “We have to remain a united community here. You could say we’re competing against other hotels on the island, but the way I look at it is that Curacao is competing against other islands in the Caribbean.”
In the end, however, it all comes down to helping guests have a unique and memorable experience.
“We really want our guests to take away their own definition of Curacao and Santa Barbara,” MacMullen said. “I think that resorts are all about the intangible –– creating that memory that sticks with you and keeps you going until your next adventure.”
For MacMullen, the best thing about the island is the crystal-clear blue water, which lights up with a phosphorous glow at night, matching the clear, starry sky above.
“As much as I travel to sell this property, it’s the time that I spend here that really keeps me going,” MacMullen said. “When I’m in the cold, frozen north on sales calls or in Europe at a trade show, I think back to my beach here at Santa Barbara and my time in the water.”
5 Great Activities at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
Not a golfer? No problem. Guests can enjoy the scenic property with a hike on Meditation Trail, which winds between Santa Barbara’s golf courses among rocky terrain and some of the island’s enormous native cacti. The Caribbean Sea, Spanish Waters bay and Tafelberg (Table Mountain) provide a gorgeous backdrop.
Play a match at the four-court Tafelberg Tennis Oasis, the only tennis facility in the entire Caribbean region with HydroGrid clay courts –– a special technology that uses an underground irrigation system to maintain ideal conditions and minimize stress on players’ joints.
Sip on a specialty cocktail, such as the signature Blue Curacao Coco Mojito, at Shore American Seafood Grill, which blends American cuisine with Curacao’s freshest seafood and features the upscale Burger Bar. Other dining options include Jun’s Sushi Bar, the Splash Pool Bar & Grill, Medi Restaurant and Bella Italia. A new restaurant, Snack Nineteen, is coming soon.
Go scuba diving with Ocean Encounters, the diving and water sports company that runs an on-site center at the resort. Located at the end of Santa Barbara Beach, the dive center provides instructors and gear for scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as kayaks and paddleboards for leisurely rides along the channel.
Get pampered at Atabei Spa, the luxury spa inspired by the culture and rituals of the island’s indigenous Arawak people. Located right next to the Stay Fit fitness center, the spa features a personal vanity, a rain shower and an outdoor relaxation patio in each treatment room.