SAN JUAN -- Still
smarting from the disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway
last summer and the subsequent negative media coverage worldwide,
Aruba tourism officials unveiled a number of initiatives designed
to propel tourism forward in 2006.
recognition has never been higher, for better or worse, said Jorge
Pesquera, CEO of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Authority.
that despite the publicity surrounding Holloways disappearance and
the events that followed, 2005 was a successful year for Aruba in
terms of both visitor numbers and the launch of new projects on the
Not all figures
are in yet, but we recorded an overall growth of 3% from the U.S.
through October. Hotel occupancy averaged 82% year round, up from
79% in 2004.
sentiment was Edison Briesen, Arubas minister of tourism, who
addressed the media at the recent Caribbean Marketplace in San
several projects in the works:
of a second tourism corridor at Baby Beach on the eastern end of
A $60 million
expansion at Queen Beatrix Airport and an expansion of the cruise
An upgrade and
renovation project in downtown Oranjestad.
The launch of a
tourism-training program for locals called the Promise.
More than $150
million in various hotel renovations, including groundbreaking on
the $5.2 million oceanfront spa at the Radisson Aruba Resort and
Casino, scheduled to open in November; the $24 million expansion at
the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino; and the reopening
of the 415-room Occident- al Grand Aruba this month, which had been
closed since last June. The $20 million refurbishment of the
360-room Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino, set to start in
June, will include all rooms, the lobby, the spa, casino and Palms
restaurant and beach bar.
continuation of the Aruba Certified Expert specialist program for
In addition, an
announcement regarding the purchase of the 152-room Bushiri Hotel
-- closed and on the market for several years -- is expected this
month, according to Briesen.
are interested in the property, and we expect that negotiations for
its purchase will be completed in February, he said. The new
property will have 350 rooms and a casino.
had what Briesen called its ups and downs in 2005, officials
forecast growth of 14% to 15% in tourism numbers and revenues in
hospitality have been the pillars of our tourism industry and will
continue to be so, said Briesen.
Briesen at Caribbean Marketplace was Steve Cohen, a crisis manager
who has served as an adviser to the Aruba Hotel and Tourism
Authority and the Aruba Strategic Communications Task Force in the
wake of Holloways disappearance.
Cohen, a senior
consultant with the Strategic Message Design Group in Los Angeles
and a former journalist and broadcaster, predicted an important
break on the Holloway case within the next six months.
This is based on
accelerated search efforts for forensic DNA evidence and the
willingness of Aruban locals to come forward and speak with
officials now that the worldwide media, for the most part, are
leaving us alone, Cohen said.
We also are able
to finally talk to some of the Alabama teens who left on that plane
and did not wait around for interrogation, said Cohen.
reports to the contrary, Cohen said that the Federal Bureau of
Investigation has been involved in the Holloway case since the
first hours of the initial complaint and did remain on Aruba for
several months, serving as observers and advisors to the local
Six FBI agents
from Miami arrived within 24 hours of Holloways
Aruba has been
focused on finding Holloway from the outset, Cohen said, citing
various government and private search and investigative
He said that the
call for a boycott of Aruba by the governors of Alabama, Arkansas
and Georgia has had no effect on the investigation or on tourism to
the island, a statement supported by Briesen.
The U.S. South is
one of our smaller markets, Briesen said.
reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to[email protected].