ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- With an eye aimed squarely at the potential represented by the group market, officials of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association (Ahata) launched Meet Aruba, its group marketing division.

Jorge Pesquera, Ahatas president and CEO, described the move as a bold step for our association.

He said that the divisions goal is to be recognized as the best group-marketing entity in the Caribbean.

We aim to have a direct sales focus with clear accountability in terms of leads, bookings and room nights, he said.

The formation of Meet Aruba represents a clear commitment from Ahata that we are serious about this market segment and intend to seriously go after it, he said.

Pesquera described the group, meetings and incentives market as a very different type of market, one in which relationships are built on a direct-sales approach.

The market has the potential to double room night totals in Aruba, according to Pesquera.

The divisions success will be determined by its ability to deliver quality service to meeting planners, to become experts in enhancing the quality of each event and to increase attendance, he said.

Caribbean destinations that already have a strong toehold in this market, according to Pesquera, are Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

The Puerto Rico Convention Center will be the largest facility of its kind in the region when it opens next month. Officials there report convention business already booked for the next five years and beyond.

Meetings facilities in Aruba, while much smaller, include new ballrooms at the Marriott and Wyndham properties, a convention center at the Renaissance Aruba and several smaller venues. Pesquera said a comprehensive overview of existing facilities is planned.

Meetings business now constitutes about 10% of the total revenue for the large hotels in Aruba, he said. We see great potential for growing that revenue segment.

By way of comparison, Puerto Ricos group and meetings business accounts for approximately 30% of hotel revenues.

The Meet Aruba division plans to target the midsize meetings market, representing between 50 and 200 rooms per event.

If we use multiple hotels, we could offer between 200 and 800 rooms per event, Pesquera said.

The Meet Aruba team includes Scott Wiggins, executive director, who also will maintain his main post as Ahatas senior director of sales and marketing.

Charly Ibarra, director of business development based in New York, will promote specific niche markets for meetings, including the African-American, Hispanic, religious and educational segments.

Donna Del Gallo will work with association and corporate markets in the Northeast.  Mayline Menendez will focus on corporate and incentive markets in the South.

We are formulating a strategic business plan now and have a new Web site under development to support this initiative, Pesquera said.

The Web site also will provide planners with another channel of information and communication with our members, said Pesquera.

The Web site, when launched, will be at www.meetaruba.com.

For information on Aruba, including hotels, attractions, restaurants, water sports and shopping, visit www.aruba.com.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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