Does the happiness of locals rank as a factor when travelers are deciding where to travel?
The question seems to be an important one for Aruba, which just completed a five-year Happiness Index study conducted by the Aruba Tourism Authority and Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida.
According to the survey, 78% of the Aruban population is happy, and 76% express longterm satisfaction with life.
When compared to the 2016 World Happiness Report, commissioned by the United Nations to measure the happiness index of 157 larger countries, Aruba's results rank right up there with No. 1 Denmark.
"While other Caribbean islands are included in the World Happiness Report, Aruba is the first and only Caribbean island to ever measure its own happiness index," said Robertico Croes of the University of Central Florida.
Aruba for a long time has prided itself on happiness: The destination's One Happy Island slogan has been around, with some interruptions, for 40 years.
Happiness, however, is more than a trendy subject or tagline; it is an inherent part of the island's DNA that Aruba has been studying since 2011, according to Otmar Oduber, minister of tourism, transportation and primary sector and culture.
"As the No. 2 most tourism-reliant nation in the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Aruba views happiness as more than a brand slogan," Oduber said. "It is as essential to the Aruba tourism experience, as are our local culture and sustainability achievements."
Aruba values the happiness of its local people, according to Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority.
"Our people are the heart and soul of Aruba, and they ensure the quality tourism experience that has defined our destination," she said. "We evaluate the success of our tourism not only by its tangible benefits but also by intangible benefits including local happiness and life satisfaction, because those factors directly impact visitor happiness."
For the Aruban people, the tourism industry yields benefits and resources such as islandwide wellness initiatives and downtown developments like Linear Park, a paved walkway between the airport and the resorts along Palm Beach where visitors and locals kick back and relax.
"Happiness in Aruba can be seen as a self-fulfilling cycle: tourism development drives happiness for the residents which, in turn, results in happy tourists," said Manuel Rivera of the University of Central Florida.
At the recent Happiness 360 Conference convened by the Aruba Tourism Authority in partnership with the UN World Tourism Organization, Oduber reported that visitors first come to Aruba for the beaches and weather -- "and return because of the amazing experiences they lived, the memories they made, and because of the happiness of our people."