Room Key: Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino

Address: J. E. Irausquin Blvd. 81, Palm Beach, Aruba

Phone: (297) 586-6555

Reservations: (800) 333-3333

Web:www.radisson.com/aruba

No. of rooms: 353

General Manager: Gary Jutz

Room Rates: Vary by room category and time of year. Rack rates through March 31 start at $449 per room, per night, double; from April 1 to 15, from $429; from April 16 through Dec. 22, from $250. Packages and special promotions available. 

Aruba's tourism officials have reason to celebrate as the destination moves through the peak visitor season with robust hotel occupancies, a high aircraft load factor, a 40% repeat visitor rate and tourism investments that totaled more than $230 million in 2006 alone.

Clearly, this is a destination on the move, and the silhouettes of construction cranes on the skylines of Palm Beach and Eagle Beach attest to that.

Apparently, the old axiom of "no building higher than a palm tree," which used to set the construction tone in the Caribbean, now is as obsolete on Aruba as it is on other islands.

The destination's hotels entered 2007 with numerous properties already enhanced and upgraded and several more products due to come on line within the year.

The latest entry is Spanish chain Sol Melia, which has purchased the former 153-room Bushiri Beach Hotel. Sol Melia will raze that property and build a 450-room luxury resort.

The resort will open in late 2008, marking Sol Melia's debut on Aruba.

Sol Melia will offer a variety of meal plans for its guests rather than operating strictly on the all-inclusive plan, according to Jorge Pesquera, CEO of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association.

The arrival of Sol Melia will bring to three the number of hotels in Aruba run by Spanish chains.

These include the all-inclusive Occidental Grand Aruba (the former Allegro Hotel), which opened last May, and the 450-room Riu Aruba Grand, which is under construction on the site of the former Aruba Grand and scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year.

Having three Spanish hotel chains on Aruba will not alter the hotel mix that drastically, according to Pesquera.

"The addition of the Spanish groups is fine because it adds mix to the overall product and brings another element of tourism from Europe, especially the two-week group," said Pesquera.

Pesquera, along with Edison Briesen, minister of tourism and transportation, and Myrna Jansen, managing director of the Aruba Tourism Authority, summarized the destination's public and private sector projects at last month's Caribbean Hotel Association's Marketplace event, which was held in Aruba.

Renovations will be completed on the first of three cruise terminals by March 1, according to Briesen.

Bids are being taken to rehab a second port facility later this year to ease cargo congestion in Oranjestad. Construction will begin on a multimillion-dollar waterfront development and a 48-acre marina village late this year.

At Queen Beatrix International Airport, the Aruba Airport Authority has already installed a central security area, four elevators and the airport's first private jet terminal.

The main runway will be recapped later this year, according to Briesen.

The airport secured Transportation Security Administration compliance status in late December.

A $10 million face-lift and upgrade program will begin in the second half of the year on a 10-mile linear park from the airport into downtown Oranjestad.

The park will feature green areas and new jogging and walking zones.

Hotels that have completed major renovations include Talk Of the Town Hotel & Beach Club, the Westin Aruba (the former Wyndham property reflagged as a Westin last December following a $24 million upgrade), the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, the Hyatt Regency Resort and Casino and the four Divi properties.

The Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino opened its Larimar Spa last fall, the Holiday Inn Aruba Resort and Casino currently is renovating the third of its three guest room wings, the Bucuti Beach Resort added its new Tara wing and the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has embarked on a $40 million renovation project.

"The private sector has reaffirmed its commitment to Aruba," Pesquera said.

Briesen, who described the current airlift picture as "strong," reported that Delta will add a Sunday flight from New York (Kennedy) on Feb. 18 and that bookings on JetBlue's daily service (twice on Sundays) from Kennedy are "helping boost winter occupancies."

A decline in room inventory contributed to the 6% decline in stayover arrivals, to 630,000, in Aruba's visitor figures through November 2006 over the same period in 2005.

"We had 8% less room inventory because of the property renovations taking place," Jansen said.

However, Aruba's $3.7 million ad and promotion campaign, launched last October, along with the commitment of its tourism industry partners, paints a different picture this year. Forecasts call for a 6% jump in tourist arrivals to bring the island back to the record levels of 2005.

Cruise figures totaled more than 591,000 passengers on 314 ship calls through November, "our best year ever," according to Jansen.

Tourism officials predict that more than half a million passengers will arrive on 310 cruise calls in 2007, including eight ships that will make their first calls ever in Aruba.

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

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