by Gordon Moseley
Cradled in the South Caribbean sea with its strong Dutch influence, is “One Happy Island”, the island of Aruba, which leads the way in the Caribbean with increased visitor arrivals and a fast growing and developing tourism market.
The island with a population of just over 103,000 has been welcoming nine times that figure in visitors annually and is looking to do better. In 2013, Aruba welcomed over 950,000 visitors to its shores and intends to cross the 1 million visitor arrival mark this year.
The island offers visitors modern luxury with homemade hospitality and that combination may be the reason Aruba continues to do well in the tourism market.
It’s in the Genes
The Aruba Tourism Authority is a private organisation that leads the international charge to bring more visitors to the island. Sitting as the head of that organisation is its Chief Executive Officer, Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes.
The CEO admits that she understands the tourism sector well and what is needed to ensure its growth. She explained to a group of Guyanese journalists on a familiarization tour of the island, that what sets Aruba aside from many of the other tourism spots in the Caribbean is its true understanding of the sector. She said for Aruba, tourism is life and apart of the air that they breathe.
“We breathe hospitality and tourism. We have been more than 50 years in this, so its part of life and I think there is a genuine sense of hospitality and understanding of its importance”, the Tourism Authority CEO said.
She explained that her own life story is rooted in tourism. The CEO recalled growing up as a girl on the island and observing her family’s business. Her father owned and managed a restaurant as well as a party boat and so it was only natural for her to continue on in the sector that was part of her life.
While tourism and hospitality courses are offered at the local University, Asjoe-Croes believes that Arubans are generally very nice and hospitable people and because of the understanding of the importance of the industry to the island’s development, parents take the lead role in raising their children with an appreciation for both tourism and hospitality.
The Aruban Offering
With several well-known, high-rise hotels including the Ritz Carlton, the Marriott, the Hyatt Regency Resort, Radisson Resort, Casino and Spa and the Holiday Inn, as well as smaller hotels and bed and breakfast facilities and apartments, the island of Aruba is investment gold for hoteliers.
In 2013, the Ritz Carlton opened the doors to its sprawling seaside hotel with over 300 rooms and executive apartment like suites. The multi million dollar hotel is already seeing the returns of its investment as bookings are at an all time high.
But Aruba also caters for the frugal minded traveler and a visit to the official island tourism website www.aruba.com would lead visitors to several smaller hotels like the Talk of the Town Hotel, which is located less than five minutes from the airport and close to the heart of the city and many of the tourism hot spots.
With five large shopping malls and a downtown shopping district, those looking for bargains would find the island appealing while the real adventure seekers would find comfort in the many sunset cruises and island safaris and wind sailing.
Many of the leading fast food outlets have established themselves in Aruba but the island also takes pride in its local cuisine and there are several restaurants offering some of the best seafood dishes. Most restaurants promote a “catch of the day” special which would include many of the fish and seafood products that local fishermen would reel in daily.
The island also has its own Carnival and music festivals and parties for the entertainment lovers.
Taking the Lead and being Resilient
Bring up the name Natalee Halloway to any tour operator or guide, and there will be an immediate blank stare before its followed by sad reflection. Halloway is the 18-year-old american who vanished in the island while on a high school tour back in 2005.
She has never been found despite the island throwing all of its resources behind finding the young woman and trying to figure out exactly what happened to her. The Natalee Halloway story became international headlines and Aruba was thrown on the international stage for months, in a way the island would not have preferred.
Aruba depends heavily on the American tourist for its survival. The United States provides the island with its largest tourist arrival numbers. The Chief Executive Officer admits that 2005 provided a dark eye for the island and its tourism offering, but the island has been able to bounce back and tourist arrival figures have been climbing steadily. In fact, Aruba which has the lowest crime rate in this part of the world, is outperforming the rest of the Caribbean in tourism growth.
The CEO said Aruba’s resilience has paid off. “Aruba is always known to be pretty resilient, I would say, so fortunately, considering the visitors that we get, throughout the history when looking at the different statistics and results after different crisis, we bounce back pretty fast”, she said.
The island, she said, has always done well with repeat visits and that has been the key factor in a steady and growing tourism market. Most persons who visit the island would return for a second visit as part of their next vacation.
Last year while most of the Caribbean reported tourism arrival growth between at 1%, Aruba was celebrating growth at 8.3%. The island also saw an increase in the number of cruise ship arrivals. Cruise tourism grew by 18% in 2013 and that figure is expected to be surpassed this year.
The CEO believes figures like that must mean that the island is doing something correct in the way it has been selling itself.
Linking the World to Aruba
The recent launch of direct flights between Guyana and Aruba by Insel Air is a welcomed move that is fully supported by the Aruba Tourism Authority. Before Insel Air’s arrival, Guyanese seeking an Aruban vacation would have had to fly to Jamaica or Miami then fly all the way back down to Aruba. Now, Insel Air is offering twice weekly non stop two-hour flights from Georgetown to Aruba.
The country welcomes a number of other major airlines daily to its shores. American Airlines operates four daily flights from the US into the island and United, Continental and Jet Blue are among the other US-based carriers that ferry passengers to the dutch island. Additionally, a number of major European based carriers fly into the island.
The CEO of the Tourism Authority said the island caters well for the needs of visitors and she pointed to activities and events that would be welcomed by families while others would be welcomed by honeymoon seekers and adventure seekers. The island’s Immigration and Customs appear well aware of the importance of tourism and while all airport security checks are in place, visitors do not find themselves being hassled upon their arrival.
In a few weeks, Aruba will send a group of journalists and tour operators to Guyana to not only experience Guyana’s tourism offering but to also get a better understanding of what the Guyanese visitor prefers. While Aruba pays alot of attention to the American and European markets, the CEO admits that as much attention is given to those countries nearby.
Venezuela ranks #2 on the island’s visitor arrival’s list and there is also hundreds of Colombian vacation seekers that have called Aruba their destination of choice. For Guyana, Aruba is hoping that it could serve as an alternative for the Guyanese traveler.
The country believes its offering of Caribbean hospitality long side its American city look and development will serve as the main factor that could welcome more visitors from Guyana.
Add that to Guyanese not needing a visa to travel to the island and scores of shopping choices, and Aruba believes Guyanese would love the island as their home away from home.
Aruba seems like the perfect getaway for just about any vacation seeker. The island’s friendly people and their warmth appears to be its greatest asset. The Tourism Authority appears to fully understand its work and the challenges ahead.
Through its website www.aruba.com, the Authority has been marketing the island as the happy island with the fun people. And just about every place you go and everyone you talk with, they all seem set on selling Aruba to the rest of the world.
The island’s radio stations blast a mixture of Aruban soca sounds and american music and the list of activities offered by the island’s tour operators take everyone into consideration.
Millions are also being spent on international marketing.
With a stable economy, modern amenities, sights of development at every turn and great food and cheap liquor, the island may have found the recipe for that sweet escape success in the tourism market, that would make many other competing destinations jealous.
(Coverage of Destination Aruba compliments of Insel Air and The Aruba Tourism Authority)
Photo Credit: www.aruba.com and www.fly-inselair.com