Travel Agent Chats with Aruba's Minister of Tourism

Back in February, Travel Agent met with Aruba's new Minister of Tourism, Otmar Oduber, to find out what the new official had in store for the island in 2010. We were fortunate enough to catch up with him this week to follow up on our first meeting.

In February, Oduber told us that the plan for Aruba was to renovate and open new hotels, increase access from the U.S. by opening up more hubs and routes, and promote culture on the island.

"We are getting up to our promises," Oduber tells us confidently.

The Ministry of Tourism announced yesterday the launch of Aruba's Fashion Week: "Aruba in Style," which will kick off in November 2011. The event was developed to bring designers and fashion-lovers from Latin America, North America and Europe to the island.

The beloved Soul Beach festival will commence in May 2011, which is a weekend of R&B and Soul artists, beach parties and high-profile attendees (think Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton).

In terms of accessibility to the island, KLM airlines has returned service, bringing with it European travelers. In addition, the minister tells us that he is in discussion with Delta and JetBlue about expanding service (notably from Boston) and opening new hubs. "70 percent of passengers [to Aruba] come from the States, and most from the Northeast area. We are looking to diversify," says Oduber. The Midwest is a market that Aruba is very much interested in, and conversations with JetBlue will determine whether or not a hub is opened up in the region.

In terms of hotels, the groundwork for the anticipated Ritz-Carlton has begun. Construction will kick off in January for an expected 2012 finish. We were told that Hilton has also expressed interest in a property on the island for a potential rebranding, and that information will be available in approximately 60 days. What's more, the island is working to develop its currently sparsely-developed south side of the island. Oduber tells us this will include an 18-hole golf course and two hotels.

Unfortunately Aruba received a bad reputation in 2005 with the disappearance of Natalee Holloway - a tragedy that was not the fault of Aruba. With the recent capture of her alleged killer, Joran Van der Sloot, on our minds, we asked Minister Oduber about how that has affected Aruba.

"That was an isolated incident, and I think the recent tragedy in Peru confirms that it was not about the destination, but about the person," says Sanju Luidens-Daryanani, senior tourism advisor for Aruba's Ministry of Tourism.

"Aruba is a very safe destination," Oduber follows up. "Aruba's business has not been influenced by this in the last few years. We must emphasize the safety of the island."



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