With JetBlue in the airlift picture, Westin in the hotel loop, the Caribbean Hotel Association Marketplace annual event on the calendar for January and a group marketing partnership with the Netherlands in the news, Aruba tourism officials are focused on relaunching the destinations image and increasing visitor figures and tourism dollars these days.

Although media attention in the past year concerning the case of missing Alabama tourist Natalee Holloway held arrival figures down slightly in the first quarter, Aruba will have a very strong 2006 when all is said and done, said Charly Ibarra, director of business development for the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association.

JetBlue will be the first low-cost carrier to serve Aruba from the U.S., pending Transportation Dept. and foreign government approval. The carrier plans to launch service from New York (Kennedy) Sept. 15 on A320 aircraft. Westin will enter the hotel market by the end of the year, following a $90 million upgrade to the former 481-room Wyndham Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino, recently purchased by Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

In other hotel news, the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino will complete a $22 million upgrade by December; the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino finished a $24 million redo; the $5.2 million Larimar Spa opens in September at the Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino; the Occidental Grand Aruba reopened following a $42 million upgrade to the former Allegro-branded property; the Riu Aruba Grand is sinking $100 million into a top-to-bottom face-lift; the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino completed its makeover; and Divi Aruba is in the midst of a $42 million upgrade.

In promotions news, the Aruba Tourism Authority launched a video testimonial campaign at www.aruba.com to illustrate visitors positive reactions to the destination.

Aruba to host CHA Marketplace

Aruba will host the 27th annual CHA Marketplace event Jan. 14 to 16, which is expected to attract approximately 1,600 international buyers and Caribbean suppliers and fill 900 hotel rooms. This marks the second time the event will be held in Aruba; the first was in 1992.

The Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association, meanwhile, launched Meet Aruba as its new group marketing division, targeted at the meetings and incentive markets.

The Meet Aruba (www.meetaruba.com) division partnered with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions to combine sales strategies and sales leads in the U.S. and Canada, said Conrad van Tiggelen, director of North America, NBTC.

Its the best of both worlds because Holland has a strong corporate market and Aruba has a strong incentive market, he said.

Proactive approach to passport law

Officials also are focused on the first stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires U.S. visitors re-entering the country from the Caribbean to carry a passport by Jan. 1.

We are trying to be as proactive as possible, Ibarra said. We post notices on our Web site, on signs at the airport and on flyers we hand out to visitors.

He said that 24% of Arubas visitors do not have passports.

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

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