ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- The future's so bright on Aruba, the locals
say they need shades.
And with additional airlift this winter from both scheduled and
charter airlines, a litany of hotel renovations online and a packed
festival calendar, that rosy outlook can only continue.
This year has been sunny, too, on the Netherlands Antilles
island, which is set well outside the hurricane belt.
Edison Briesen, minister of tourism, described 2003 as "one of
Aruba's best years ever."
"Business began picking up a year ago September, when 68% of all
arrivals that month were from the U.S.," he said. "This market has
increased steadily ever since, [and] we will end up this year
slightly ahead of last year."
The Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) reported that travel through
mid-November was up 6.3% overall from 2002, with an approximately
15% rise in year-to-date visitors from the U.S. each month in June,
July and August, and -- according to the latest findings -- a shade
more than 16% growth in October.
"It's a combination of everything: economic recovery, the fact
that Aruba's perceived as a very safe destination and the fact we
have a lot to do here," according to Marcial Ibarra, director for
North America at the ATA.
"And, during hurricane season, agents are telling clients to go
to Aruba -- it's safe there," he added. "That's helped, too. It's
not just one thing."
Ibarra also credited the ATA's growing roster of Aruba Certified
Expert (ACE) destination specialist agents for the growth.
"The program is really kicking off, and we have close to 2,500
agents now," he said.
The ATA recently instituted a sales reporting system that
enables it to track ACE agents' performance and productivity.
"We can see what we can do to help ACE agents who don't produce
and reward the ones who are beating the targets," Ibarra said.
Something in the air
Getting sufficient airlift to spur arrivals growth is a constant
necessity for Caribbean islands.
But Aruba's an airlift winner this winter, as its "airline
partners have recognized increased demand and stepped up their
services," Briesen said.
New flights include US Airways' Saturday nonstop service from
Boston and a second Saturday flight from Charlotte, N.C., launching
Feb. 14; United's seasonal Saturday flight from Washington from
Dec. 20 through April 17; and Sun Country Airlines' Saturday
charter flight from Minneapolis from Jan. 24 through April 10.
In addition, Briesen pointed out that American's new daily
nonstop from Los Angeles to San Juan, slated to begin Dec. 19,
"will boost our West Coast market by offering travelers a much
quicker connection to Aruba from San Juan on American Airlines or
American also offers daily flights from New York (Ken-nedy) and
Miami and four weekly flights from Boston, while US Airways flies
daily from Philadelphia and Cleveland and United offers Saturday
flights from Chicago and Washington (Dulles).
Other carriers serving Aruba from the U.S. include ATA, with
Saturday service from Chicago (Midway); Continental, with a daily
flight from Newark and up to three weekly flights from Houston
(Bush); Delta's daily Atlanta service and two weekend flights from
Kennedy, as well as a number of charter flights from 10
Meanwhile, on the ground, Aruba hotels are in the midst of
renovations, crafting new packages -- or are simply lapping up the
For example, the Wyndham Aruba Beach Resort and Casino recently
won a AAA Four Diamond Award for 2003, while the Amsterdam Manor
Beach Resort earned a third diamond from the organization.
Meanwhile, the family-friendly La Cabana became more welcoming
to meetings and incentives travelers thanks to installation of
resortwide wireless Internet access, available 24/7 for a charge of
$15 to $18 per day.
The Manchebo Beach Resort instituted its all-inclusive Club Pega
meal plan, good at all resort eateries; guests staying at least
four nights also can enjoy one dinner off-site at restaurants
belonging to the Aruba Gastronomic Association.
The all-inclusive Divi and Tamarijn Aruba Beach Resorts are
putting together new golf packages in anticipation of the spring
opening of the nine-hole The Links at Divi Aruba golf course this
Add-on Divi and Tamarijn Aruba Golf packages include three
nine-hole rounds or three 18-hole rounds with a free video analysis
and one round in the weekly Divi Tournament.
Per-person prices -- not inclusive of room rates -- are $120 for
the three nine-hole rounds plan and $265 for the three 18-hole plan
from April 1 to 20, or $96 and $188, respectively, from May 1 to
Two of Aruba's biggest events -- its Beach Festival in May and
its Music Festival in October -- already have generated interest
And several hotels and tour operators will feature packages
geared to the 50th anniversary of Aruba's underappreciated Carnival
celebrations, which will run from Jan. 3 to Feb. 25.
The partying comes to a head on Feb. 22, with the 50th Aruba
Grand Carnival Parade through the streets of Oranjestad and winds
down on Feb. 25 with the burning of the symbolic King Momo
"It doesn't have the name recognition of Brazil's or Trinidad's
events, but we have a big Carnival," said Ibarra. "And although we
haven't really promoted it, it's during February, and we're packed
Aruban events such as the beach and music festivals are becoming
so popular that visitors now are booking rooms a year in advance,
Not that the island is all play and no work; in fact, Aruba has
been selected as the venue for the Caribbean Tourism Organization's
annual Sustainable Tourism Conference next spring.
For information on Aruba itself or the Aruba Certified Expert
program, contact the ATA at www.aruba.com or (800) TO-ARUBA.
To contact reporters Gay Nagle Myers or Kenneth Kiesnoski,
send e-mail to [email protected] or [email protected].