Just months into their new positions, Aruba Prime Minister Mike Eman and Tourism Minister Otmar Oduber are demonstrating considerable savvy when it comes to travel-related issues.
Eman, who took office in December, appeared alongside Marriott International CEO Bill Marriott Jr. last week in Aruba as Marriott announced that Ritz-Carlton would proceed with a 320-room luxury property to open in late 2012 along the last strip of coveted beachfront on Aruba's Palm Beach.
The announcement was not without drama and was preceded by years of discussions with past administrations. The plan also generated hot debate among Aruban locals about how best to combine Aruba's tourism growth and hotel development while preserving and protecting the island's natural resources for future generations.
While Eman described Marriott International as an "innovative company with a focus on sustainability and a sense of community," he acknowledged that giving the go-ahead to Ritz-Carlton to proceed with the project was a long and difficult process, and he credited the previous administration with moving forward on the plan.
"Due to a rapid expansion of hotels and condominiums over the last 20 years, we are concerned that we are left with too few vacant public beach areas," Eman said. "The fact that we are looking at the addition of such a prestigious hotel as the Ritz-Carlton reduces this pain for us. We hope to work with Marriott to achieve the vision of our new government to emphasize sustainability and durability in the development of our tourism industry for both the people of Aruba and our visitors."
Marriott, always the statesman, acknowledged these concerns and assured Arubans that the project addressed the concerns of beach access for locals and the watersports vendors and fishermen who operate in the area.
"Marriott has a large presence on Aruba with more than 1,400 rooms and 1,500 employees, many of whom are from Aruba," Marriott said. "Our new Ritz-Carlton will generate up to 1,000 jobs for full-time hotel employees and construction workers, and more than 90% of these workers will come from the local population."
The new hotel will be energy-efficient, consume low amounts of fresh water due to desalinization procedures and will build public beach access into the overall hotel design.
"The Ritz-Carlton hotel ... will represent the highest tier in a luxury product and will position Aruba as an upscale destination," he said. "Demand is growing for this type of luxury hotel product, and we are committed to delivering this in a sustainable, responsible way."
Oduber, in office since October, pointed out that the downtown revitalization and beautification program in capital city Oranjestad, launched in earnest by the new administration, also will generate interest from the luxury travel market.
"We are currently developing a 10-mile tourism corridor from the airport to downtown Oranjestad with parks and green space," he said. "Parts of the downtown area, now under construction, will be a pedestrian-only zone for shopping, dining and sightseeing. All government monuments will be cleaned and restored. We started with the Parliament Building, moved on the courthouse and now are working on other historical monuments."
A European-style tram or trolley will transport passengers from the cruise port to and around the downtown areas. Marriott International is contributing to this project as well as continuing to fund hospitality training and courses at the local university.
"We are growing our tourism product here in Aruba with the help of our partners," Oduber said. "I am determined to put a structural plan in place to further enhance the tourism product on this island."