Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO, Aruba Tourism Authority
By Brian Major
September 22, 2011 11:45 PM
Perhaps it’s the consistently warm climate, the white-sand beaches and abundant water sports, or the diverse culture and cuisine. Regardless of the reasons, North American vacationers can’t seem to get enough of Aruba. The southern Caribbean island continues to be extremely popular with U.S. and Canadian leisure travelers. Between January and July, Aruba hosted 81,181 visitors, a 6.27 percent increase compared with the 75,245 who visited in 2010.
No wonder Aruba is billed as “One Happy Island.” Yet the country is not taking its recent success for granted. Instead, tourism officials are seeking to extend Aruba’s popularity through several initiatives to enhance the island’s tourism and municipal infrastructure. The highlight is the government’s launch of the $350 million “Bo Aruba” project, which will upgrade various sites in Oranjestad, the capital, and at other locations across the island.
Among other projects, Bo Aruba will create a new shopping mall, a traffic relief program that will remove vehicular traffic from downtown areas and establish pedestrian-friendly walking spaces, and a downtown tram system. Plans also call for a seven-mile long, $21 million “linear park” that will extend along Aruba’s coastline, from the airport to Oranjestad.
Aruba’s government also recently approved additional marketing dollars and shifted the entirety its hotel room tax receipts to fund new tourism marketing programs. The Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) also designated additional funds to tourism through its Tourism Product Improvement Fund. The new projects also coincide with Aruba’s recent move to reorganize and privatize the Aruba Tourism Authority. As a public-private partnership, ATA will enable Aruba’s government to more quickly and effectively execute tourism initiatives.
Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, ATA’s new chief executive officer, was named to the post earlier this year as part of newly privatized organization. Here she discusses what the changes to her department will mean for travel agents and visitors to the island:
What is the newly re-organized ATA focused on in terms of tourism programs? We are making investments in enhancing the facilities and experiences for both stopover visitors and cruise guests. The government is investing $62 million to move our container ship facility, and as a result we will cater to cruise passengers in a better way. The Reina Beatrix International Airport is a tremendous facility. Nevertheless we are spending $20 million to incorporate an ‘Aruba feeling’ into its design, and make it less like a “corporate” airport.
How does the ATA’s privatization impact the implementation of tourism-related initiatives? We cannot succeed by simply adding more and more hotel rooms. We must focus on the quality of the visitor experience. ATA has been privatized for this purpose. As a private organization we can be flexible in seeking and obtaining the tools to develop and promote Aruba effectively. We are currently working on 2012 marketing plans and a strategic plan for tourism also is being produced. As that goes into effect, we will acquire the research data that will indicate what we have to do to enhance the quality of Aruba’s tourism product, what innovations are possible and what our marketing approach should be.
Despite its recent success, has Aruba faced challenges to its tourism growth? Yes, the biggest change has been a reduction in air capacity since last year, when American Airlines discontinued its service from Boston. Overall there has been a 6 percent decrease in airline seats to Aruba since last year. However we’ve received some relief through additional flights from JetBlue, and we still receive strong service from other carriers and markets.
How will the new tourism projects enhance the visitor experience in Aruba? Aruba tourism is strong and growing, but we want to maintain our focus on developing the product and enhancing the visitor experience. The linear park will create an accessible, scenic link between the airport and the resorts along Palm Beach, welcoming visitors with a fully landscaped 10-mile corridor along Aruba’s coastline. In addition, our leading hotels have collectively spent $70 million in the last few years to improve their properties. The refurbishment cycle is very high among our hotels and resorts.
How is ATA working with travel professionals? Our Travel Agent Months (TRAM) program, which we sponsor in partnership with the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association (AHATA), runs through Dec. 15 and provides travel agents with opportunities to experience Aruba first-hand through multi-night stays at resorts across the island. Many of the properties have undergone recent refurbishments. We want to make sure that agents have the tools needed to sell Aruba, and experiencing all we have to offer firsthand is vital. We strive to make the TRAM program easy, affordable and enjoyable. Also, we are in the process of creating tools that travel professionals can use to promote Aruba in places where advertising costs are high. We also are working on marketing plans for 2012 as well as forming a strategic tourism policy plan. We are compiling the research and data to get this done.
Brian Major is executive editor covering the Caribbean and Latin America for TravelPulse.