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A Successful Entrepreneur Story of the Force Behind Irie Tours: Dennis & Sadira Henriquez

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Entrepreneurship is a thrilling roller coaster ride. There are highs, but also lows. What isn’t talked about enough is the struggle that so many entrepreneurs face pursuing success. How do they come up with their startup ideas? How many attempts does it take before they make it big? Clearly there is no straight path to success. It takes hard work, long hours, and reinventing yourself every day.

An ideal discussion of one such non-linear path is the story about Dennis and Sadira Henriquez, the force behind Irie Tours, one of Curaçao’s most well-known tour organizations. This pow­erful and hardworking couple is an example that commitment, determination, passion for tourism and love for your island can definitely be the main ingredients for a successful entrepreneurial journey.

While driving around Curaçao, it’s hard not to notice the colorful open-air tour buses hitting the streets, informing tourists about Curaçao’s nicest beaches, the most unique spots and its rich history.

“When I look back on our entrepreneurial start, it’s still impossible to believe how far we have come! Sadira worked at a sports betting com­pany and the company I owned went bankrupt. On a regular basis, I used to sit at Baya Beach to relax and unwind. Little did I know that these relaxing moments would lead us to an interest­ing journey. At Baya Beach, I met different tour­ists driving around on scooters and that is how I came up with the idea to start renting scooters to tourists. We bought six scooters and a van, painted with reggae colors, to transport the scooters to the cruise ship terminal” says Dennis.

Sadira, his wife and business partner, continues saying that they started from scratch, without even knowing about rules and permits. “It’s also interesting to mention that the van we used to transport the scooters, became the main idea of our business. We kept up with the reggae col­ors and also the name ‘Irie’, which means the friendly greeting by Rastafarians” she explains.

“It was another working day at the terminal. I rented all scooters and was waiting for the tour­ists to come back. A nice family who wanted to know more about Curaçao approached me and this is how I started, with an impromptu tour. They had such a great time and enjoyed my favorite spots on Curaçao. When we got back to the terminal, I felt that I needed to work on a business plan” he continues.

Sadira and Dennis opted to start the transition in their business, against all odds. “It has been a roller coaster ride, definitely! For example, we didn’t know we needed a special TW-permit for the license plate. There are certain permits and licenses needed to operate a tour guide business and a TW-permit is one of them. We applied years ago without any positive result. The pro­cedure was long and stressful. After facing so many challenges, we decided to buy two com­panies; one of them owned the TW-permit, so this helped us with the starting process of our company. To be very honest, there were times we were about to give up. We tried to sell dif­ferent services, for example kayaking and rides on Harley Davidsons. We tried, failed, tried, failed, and tried again eventually succeeded. Entrepreneurship is an all-consuming involve­ment. Though it’s a highly challenging route to take, financially and personally, the sense of fulfillment we experience makes it all worth it. We believe in Curaçao, we believe in our tour­ism, we believe in our people. Giving up is not an option! ” Sadira adds. While interviewing this couple, it was refreshing to feel their passion for their work and our island. “We started our busi­ness just the two of us. Nowadays, we count on a team of 50 employees. I still look back to the very first bookings, when I had the responsibility of owner, administrator and driver at the same time” Dennis stated.

Recently Irie Tours took another interesting chapter as a touring company. Next to the enter­taining bus tours, Dennis and Sadira made the decision to expand their entrepreneurial venue by buying Does Travel & Cadushi Tours, Bounty Adventures and Pirates Nest restaurant. Starting with six scooters, the company now consists of nine buses and two catamarans, with still more to come. “This is the moment to expand and take the market share by forging our own path. Next to our tours by bus, we also offer beautiful and entertaining tours by sea. Travel and tourism is a competitive sector. It highlights the importance of giving excellent customer service and as a dynamic team, we will continue focusing on

our personal service. Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle. Tourism is growing and there are many investors and entrepreneurs who want to invest in our economy, and we desperately need them! I can tell you, when the cruise ship ‘Freedom of the Seas’ visits Curaçao, we do have a shortage of tours at the terminal. The procedure for permit applications has to be eased to create more jobs in the tourism sector. Curaçao is a paradise and we believe in a brighter future.”

Tourism is a fast-growing industry, which is a key factor to our country’s economy. Curaçao’s tourism continues to surge. Curaçao’s Hospitality & Tourism Association (CHATA) cal­culated that tourism generated USD132.7 million for Curaçao’s local economy during the first two months of 2019, which was a 10% increase from prior year. Many developments occurred in 2019: Curaçao and Airbnb renewed an agreement to promote the country as a leading tourism des­tination; we welcomed new services to Bogotá from the Colombian LCC Wingo Airline; and the

US United Airlines added flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to Curaçao start­ing December 2019. Additionally within the Caribbean, Curaçao added two weekly flights to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. From Europe, Condor Airline is operating seasonal flights between Curaçao and Frankfurt, while Air Canada is also increasing its seasonal flights from three to four weekly rotations from Toronto to Curaçao in late 2019. There are also strong developments in the hotel sector, starting with the reopening of the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort on Piscadera Bay; Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino is in the midst of a renova­tion; the all-inclusive, family-friendly Dreams Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino and all-inclusive Corendon Beach Resort Curaçao both opening soon. Tourism on Curaçao is not only a strong contributor towards economic recovery but also generates much needed employment opportu­nities while further developing and enhancing the island.