Vacation photo from Curacao

What a Paradise… But Where Are We?

By Adam Ross

Recently, my wife and I traveled to the island of Curaçao for vacation, and discovered our innate reliance on effective way finding and its influence in shaping a brand experience.

If you don’t know where Curaçao is, don’t worry—most people don’t. Curaçao is located off the coast of Venezuela and is the “C” of the “A, B, C Islands” (along with Aruba and Bonaire). Ahh, Aruba. Yes, you’ve heard of that place in the Beach Boys song, “Cocomo”.

Curaçao was once part of the Dutch Antilles but is now its own country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There are many Dutch tourists, as well as native citizens, who speak one of three official languages – Dutch, Papiamentu, and English. The beaches are unparalleled, the food is interesting, and the weather is perfect year round. Overall it’s a great place to vacation, although the board of tourism put about as much thought into their way finding program as I did determining what swim trunks I would wear for the day.

After renting a car, we pulled out our island map and picked our first destination, the capital city of Willemstad. Or Wilemstaad, or Williamsted, as we noticed it spelled multiple ways during our journey. Confusing area names and consistent misspellings plagued the roadways and the map. Most street names were not even listed on the map (even major roads… if you could call them that).

Just like the map, the roadways all lacked names. There was not a sign to be found with a street name on it. I actually thought we were on a really long road called “Bushalte” because of the frequent signs on the roadside, until I realized that it means “bus stop” in Dutch. Surprisingly, we only got turned around a few times during our travels. I guess you could call it creative navigation. It was a “If you’ve reached the town with a silly name then you’ve gone to far” kind of system coupled with a very random Leonardo DiCaprio TagHeuer billboard as a landmark (our reassurance that “yes, this is the right way back to town”). Thanks Leo!

We figured at some point the island might be in the process of redoing their way finding signage because we noticed signs that looked brand new. They were bright blue with reflective words and arrows. These were great until we came upon several of them on a trip to Port Marie. The new signs were installed directly behind the old signs (and I mean directly), which completely blocked the messages.

It’s easy to see the take-away here. Way finding is important, especially for tourists, and without the proper information at decision points, the stress of finding your way outweighs the positive experience you hoped to have.

Personally, the lack of signs truly didn’t take away from the experience of Curaçao as much as they added to the adventure. Overall, my wife and I had a wonderful time and recommend Curaçao to those who do not fear the unknown, or don’t mind throwing the guidebook out the window and exploring for yourselves.

The next time you travel abroad, see how the way finding influences your trip.