Aruba Gets 350 Times Easier to Sell

Travel Agent was on site for the recent Caribbean Marketplace 2007, during which host island Aruba announced that agents will have more than 350 million reasons for an easier sell for the island. Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino unveiled major updates this past November

At the first official press conference to kick off the 28th annual event hosted by the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), Aruba tourism officials announced financial investments totaling more than $350 million and encompassing nearly every sector of the tourism industry.

Among the major contributions is a more than $35 million investment by the Aruba Airport Authority to improve QueenBeatrixInternationalAirport. The improvements to the airport, which will be ongoing until 2010, will include Aruba's first private jet terminal, which is set to open within days. Four elevators, a new central security area and an expanded runway and taxiway will also be added to the airport.

Among the increased airlift for the island is a Delta Air Lines flight on Sundays from JohnF.KennedyInternationalAirport beginning on February 18 and JetBlue Airlines flights from JFK beginning April 1.

A former cargo area will undergo multi-million dollar, waterfront redevelopment that is expected to begin in late 2007. The area will be transformed into a waterfront marina that will include residential, retail and commercial components.

Among the array of hotels and resorts experiencing hundreds of millions of dollars in major investments is the Westin Aruba Resort, which is undertaking millions of dollars in renovations and has been officially re-flagged from the former Wyndham Aruba.

The Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino opened its $5.2 million, 13,000-square-foot oceanfront Larimar Spa in November of last year. The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino is undergoing a $40 million upgrade that includes a new lobby and upgraded rooms.

Spanish resort giant Sol Melia is finalizing the purchase of the 153-room Bushiri Beach Resort and has plans to expand the property to about 450 rooms. Notable investments of more than $50 million are being made at Divi Resorts throughout Aruba (see the January 29 edition of Travel Agent for the full story).

In the third and fourth quarters of 2007, groundbreaking is expected to begin on the longest linear park in the Caribbean. Aruba's LinearPark is expected to span 10 miles from the airport to its EagleBeach. The $10 million project will include green zones, walking and jogging paths and oceanfront vistas.

Mark Benson, senior director of the Caribbean market for GOGO WorldWide Vacations, says the improvements are a part of Aruba's efforts to stay on top of such Caribbean competition as Jamaica and St. Lucia.

"The destination is going through something of a renaissance," Benson says, noting Aruba sales are already up 55 percent from this time last year for GOGO.

"What Aruba is doing is looking at the competition and upgrading."

Although Aruba has been a hot sell even before these plans, Benson says the improvements will make a travel agent's job in selling the destination that much easier.

"Aruba has always been good at staying one step ahead of the game," Benson says, noting GOGO books more than 200,000 rooms in Aruba annually. "What we're seeing in Aruba is somewhat of a perfect storm. What this means for travel agents is that they can sell it with even more confidence than they did before because the range of products there is greater than ever before."

On hand for the announcements were minister of tourism and transportation, Edison Briesen; managing director for the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA), Myrna Jansen-Feliciano; and president and chief executive officer for the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association (AHATA), Jorge Pesquera.