nce upon a time, there was a hotel in the capital city of a Caribbean island. The hotel changed its name after a management switch.

To give the place a shot in the arm, the owner of the hotel spent plenty of money to fix it up after the name change.

He wanted everyone to see his "new" hotel. So, he threw a party and invited lots of people. He also called in some experts to help him spread the news of his "new" hotel.

That's called rebranding. And here is the story of that hotel.

The rebirth of the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort & Casino in Oranjestad began with the sale of the former Sonesta property in 2002.

Managing director Mark Nooren, who was at the Sonesta's helm and now heads the Renaissance hotel team, said the property had an identity crisis, even before the name and management change.

Renaissance Island, the private, 40-acre retreat reached by water shuttle from the lobby of the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort & Casino, has three beaches, a nature trail, a restaurant, water sports and loads of lounge chairs. "We are a spread-out property. We're difficult to sell," Nooren said. "We have two separate guest-room complexes. We have a private island, a conference center, two casinos, a shopping complex called Seaport Village and several restaurants and lounges.

"Many guests do not realize that all of these components are part of the Renaissance Aruba property," he said.

"We are on the waterfront but not on the beach," he added. "We are in the capital city."

As the resort neared completion last month on a $15 million renovation and upgrade, Nooren and his team called in the hotel's newly formed, 14-member Advisory Council for a focus session on how to reposition and reintroduce the Renaissance to travel agents.

The council consisted of several tour operators, representatives from meetings and incentive groups, online travel sellers, a marketing consultant and two members of the press (including yours truly).

We were shown the results of the renovation and asked for our feedback on how to develop a cohesive resort story.

"We are doing things differently here," Nooren said. "We have chosen to zag while others zig, and there is a lot of zagging going on here."

Six components distinguish the Renaissance, according to Nooren. They are:

• Renaissance Island, the resort's 40-acre private island, reached by a 10-minute complimentary boat ride from the water-taxi dock in the lobby.

• The new, 22-minute "Experience Aruba Panorama" film shown several times a day in the resort's theater.

• "Let's Go Latin," the resort's Las Vegas-style show performed nightly with Cuban dancers, costumes and music.

• The renovated pool, beach area and 260 guest rooms at the Beach Tower, which front a lagoon and small beach.

• The resort's new lobby bar called Blue, located in the Marina Tower and modeled after lounges in Miami's South Beach district in terms of ambience, lighting, jazz and martinis. Blue will open early next year "and will be positioned as a happening night spot for hotel guests, island and cruise visitors and locals," Nooren said.

• The resort's staff, many of whom go back to the Sonesta days, "consistently rank at the top of our guest comment cards," Nooren said.

These components, in addition to the property's renovations, "signal our renaissance," Nooren said. "We want agents to know that this is not just another Caribbean hotel."

OK, great, we said, but the changes and improvements do not matter if agents don't get the big picture. We told them that the best things the resort has going for it -- airport proximity, in-town location and the private island -- must be made clear.

Some of us suggested they change the word "tower" used to designate the room locations (Beach Tower and Marina Tower) because neither building is more than five stories high. Perhaps "club" or "village" would be more appropriate.

"This is a city hotel with a private island, but you have to cross a street to get to some of the rooms. Why not build a bridge over the street?" an online seller asked.

A meetings planner complained that the "flow process is screwy. Why is the conference center near the beach and the spa in the main building?"

Some said the resort was too splintered in its effort to be all things to many markets.

"The first goal is to convince people to come, which means you have to get agents on your side," a tour operator said.

Another suggested "more signage around the resort."

"An easy sell is what we're after," the marketing consultant said. "Staying here is a real Aruba experience: It's safe, it's cultural, it's a happening place with a private island for whimsy and the capital city right at the doorstep. Communicate that effectively and the booking is a done deal."

The session wrapped up at lunchtime. A tour operator had the final thought: "This resort is like a cruise ship that's not moving. There's lots to do and see here. Just get the clients here -- they'll return."

We all agreed. The Renaissance Aruba is a different kind of Caribbean hotel -- one that seeks critiques and suggestions from its travel partners, who can sometimes be its harshest critics.

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

• • •

Room key: Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort & Casino
Address:
L. G. Smith Blvd. 82, Oranjestad, Aruba
Phone: (800) 223-6388
Web:www.renaissancearuba.com
Location: Waterfront property in Oranjestad, near cruise ship pier and a shopping complex, about 10 minutes from the airport.
Managing director: Mark Nooren
No. of rooms: 560
Facilities: Private island reached by resort launch, Seaport Village shops, Okeanos Spa, four restaurants, two casinos, three pools.
Rates: Rack rates from $249 to $345 per room, per night, double from Jan. 3 to April 16. Packages also are available.
Noteworthy: One of Renaissance Island's three beaches is designated for kids and families. The other two offer peace, quiet, flamingos and birds. Resort staff is friendly, helpful and proud of the property.
Not worthy: Traffic noise and music at night carry up to the rooms overlooking the pool deck in the Marina Tower. Resort layout is initially confusing for first-timers.

Aruba's sights and sounds

Some recommendations while on the island:

• "Explore Aruba Panorama," a new, 22-minute, big-screen, destination-oriented film offers viewers a glimpse of Aruba's highlights, history, Holland ties, culture, religion and Carnival. The film is shown from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week in the Crystal Theater in the Renaissance Aruba; tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children under 12.

• Alto Vista Chapel, in Aruba's northeast corner, was built in 1750 on top of a hill overlooking the sea. Its stark setting, mustard-colored walls, and eerie boulders make the little church well worth a visit.

• Aruba's Natural Bridge gets a lot of press coverage, but it rates a visit, if just to see how the forces of raging wind and sea have sculpted the coral rock over the ages.

• Even if your clients are not the gambling kind, tell them to stop in at a casino, drop a nickel or two in the slot machines and join the frenzy for a few minutes. As a local tour guide pointed out, "Shark feeding is no longer allowed on Aruba. If you want to see sharks, just go to the casinos."

• The Archaeological Museum of Aruba in Oranjestad has two rooms full of Indian artifacts, farm utensils, skeletons---and not a lot of visitors. Admission is free; hours are 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

• Shopping really is duty-free (no tax) at the large stores in town and at the hotels, and U.S. visitors can bring up to 10 pounds of hard cheese through U.S. customs.

• DePalm Tours offers a four-hour Aruba Kayak Adventure tour in the calm waters off the south coast. If windsurfing isn't your clients' thing, a kayak tour just might be. The $77 rate covers resort pickup, instruction, equipment and lunch. Finish the day by downing a bottle of chilled Balashi (local beer). -- G.N.M.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI