Confident in charms and new campaign, Aruba remains upbeat By Gay Nagle Myers / December 01, 2008 Share 1 -- Aruba is sticking to its fourth-quarter forecast of 70% hotel occupancy or higher, said Myrna Jansen, managing director of the Aruba Tourism Authority. "Although we usually have occupancies in the 80% to 90% range in the fourth quarter, we're seeing that people are still traveling to Aruba right now, even in these tight economic times," said Jansen. When hotel occupancies are averaged for 2008 as a whole, Jansen estimated a figure of 74%, compared with 77% in 2007. The first quarter of 2008 was up 5% over the same period in 2007, although as the year has progressed, the quarterly increases were never again that high, according to Jansen. Despite that falloff, the destination expects its 2008 visitor total to be 5% ahead of last year, when the island drew 772,000 stayover visitors; 72% were from the U.S. Aruba boasts a 60% repeat visitor rate, among the highest in the Caribbean, helped in part by its strong timeshare base. "Our weather, our people, our airlift, annual events and the variety of resorts are strong selling points," she said. Heading into the peak winter season, Aruba has an inventory of 7,400 guestrooms in 28 resorts. Investments in recent property renovations total $500 million, which will continue through 2011. The 411-room Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino completed a $50 million renovation in the past year; the Cunucu Arubiano Eco-Lodge, an adults-only boutique resort that features stays in individual casitas, opened in October; the 360-room Hyatt Regency completed a $20 million renovation; and the Westin Resort, Aruba finalized the last phase of a $22 million renovation of its pool area and meeting and banquet space. In other developments: The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino recently opened the 3,500-square-foot Okeanos Spa. The Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort will debut its 140 new oceanfront suites this month. The Holiday Inn Resort Aruba added Kids Disco Night to its KidsSpree Vacation Club. The 100-room Brickell Bay Beach Club opened its Intermezzo Spa. La Cabana Beach & Racquet Club's $27 million renovation, slated for completion in 2011, will include a guestroom update. And the Tierra del Sol Resort, Spa & Country Club recently opened its Anabui Private Residence Club, which offers fractional ownership in 36 three-bedroom club residences. Dining debutsNew restaurants include the Old Man & the Sea near the Flying Fishbone and the Mr. Jazz Cuban Club in the Paseo Herencia mall complex. The Havana Beach Bar & Restaurant now offers guests the options of casual dining or an intimate dinner in a quiet corner of the restaurant. Passions Beach Bar & Restaurant offers seaside dinners Wednesdays through Sundays at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Hotel on Eagle Beach. Air capacity totals 30,000 airline seats per week on seven airlines from 12 U.S. gateways. Airlift has increased not only from the U.S. markets but also from South America, Italy and the U.K. Charter flights from Sweden and Germany are expected to join the air lineup next year. Delta will add a second daily flight to Aruba from Atlanta, beginning Dec. 20; JetBlue added a second flight from New York Kennedy on Saturdays, which increases the schedule to two daily flights plus three on Saturdays from New York. JetBlue's schedule from Boston will jump from three to four flights a week from January through mid-February and will increase to a daily flight except Tuesdays from mid-February through April, with two flights on Saturdays. "Our goal in 2009 is to maximize Aruba's exposure in all our markets," Jansen said. "The U.S. continues to be our most important visitor source, but we are tapping all markets that show a potential, especially Latin America and Europe." Advertising friendlinessA new marketing campaign unveiled in November carries the tagline "90,000 friends you've not met yet" and focuses on the friendliness of the Aruban people. Comedian Lewis Black plays the role of the world's grumpiest traveler who, frustrated by the island's friendly spirit, tries but does not succeed in finding an unfriendly Aruban. Island locals are featured in 14 different ads appearing on TV, in print and on New York subway billboards, telling their own stories of why Aruba appeals to golfers, hikers, surfers, foodies, honeymooners, bridal couples and spa seekers. The total marketing and promotional budget of $19 million includes an additional $10 million contributed by the government. "We don't expect to grow next year, but our numbers will not decrease," Jansen said. Booking patterns reveal shorter booking cycles and an "unpredictable" market due to the global economic and financial crises, according to Jansen. Aruba will roll out a new look to its website at www.aruba.com. The site, which carries links to its 3,000 Aruba Certified Experts, or ACE travel agents, also features a direct booking function for consumer visitors to the site.