Kralendijk- With the passing of Hugo Gerharts, Bonaire has definitely lost one of its greatest icons ever.
Gerharts used to be one of the largest private employers on the island ever, and he and his companies were fundamental in de development of Bonaire as the tourism desination as we know it nowadays.
The entrepreneurship ran in Gerharts’ vains. He undoubtedly inherited the his pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit from his father Lodewijk Daniel Gerharts (‘Meneer Eldee’), who was not only politically very active, but also the first to start with many developments on the island, such as the electricity supply on the then very sparsely populated Bonaire.
At his peak as an entrepreneur, Gerharts was the owners of some 30 different companies and no fewer than 350 employees. The majority of the employees were employed by the N.V. Handelsmaatschappij Bonaire (HMB) and the Handelsmaatschappij Kralendijk (HMK). Gerharts was also the spiritual father of Sunset Beach Hotel, with 100 employees one of the larger employers and certainly one of the biggest hotels on the island of the time. In addition, Gerharts ran the largest travel agency on the island and his company -among many things- handled all airplanes at the airport, sold and rented cars, supplied gas and acted as insurance agent.
Gerharts also founded Sunbelt Realty in the early nineties, now easily the largest real estate agency on the island.
Gerharts was tireless when it came to promoting the island. It was not uncommon for him to have promotional material printed at his own expense or to invite travel agents to stay on the island and in his hotel for free. Gerharts was also instrumental in bringing the direct flights from KLM to Bonaire in the year 1991, which was preceded by numerous trips to the KLM headquarters.
His great love for tourism eventually also proved fatal his business empire. Gerharts felt responsible for the takeover of the previously unsuccessful government-owned hotel Hotel Bonaire, which he renamed the Sunset Beach Hotel. Although the hotel was given a new lease of life and was popular with visitors, Gerharts never succeeded in obtaining the needed financing for the renovation of the hotel.
As a result, he paid for most of the expenditures for the hotel out of the cash flow of the companies that were profitable, particularly HMB and HMK. After the former ABN Bank refused to continue financing the group of companies, Gerharts switched to the Aruban Interbank, which was operating on Bonaire for a short period of time. However, Interbank quickly pulled the plug from the group of companies, which resulted in the bankruptcy of most companies owned by Gerharts.
Gerharts never fully recovered from the loss of his beloved companies. After a few years in Miami, where he used to have an apartment, he returned to Bonaire. Son Larry and daughter Natasha continued with elements of their father’s old companies in the form of Bonaire Air Services (BAS) and Bonaire Travel.
Despite the respectable age of Gerharts, who celebrated his 88th birthday on April 11, he was still very active on social media, where he regularly expressed his opinions on tourism and local politics. His last public appearance was at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Washington-Slagbaai National park.
With the passing of Gerharts, Bonaire loses one of its most important ‘captains of industry’ ever.