Cruise arrivals are projected to bring 650,000 visitors to Aruba this year
By Chris Roberts
ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- Aruba’s healthy tourism economy is fueled by a generous blend of cruise arrivals and hotel guests. Annually this popular desert destination, in the lower reaches of the Caribbean near Venezuela, attracts nearly 1.7 million visitors.
It is no surprise that development is booming.
“We have flights from 14 gateways in North America, high name recognition, and strong marketing with a focus on the northeast United States,” says Sanju Luidens-Daryanani, chief marketing officer for the Aruba Tourism Authority. “With the merger of Air Tran and Southwest Airlines, we now have access to their entire network.”
Last December an impressive $150 million Ritz-Carlton opened ahead of schedule. Holiday Inn completed a $20 million renovation in January including all rooms, the pool and reception areas. La Cabana Resort finished a $45 million renovation. RIU Grand Palace purchased the neighbouring Westin hotel with plans to spend $175 million and re-brand the high rise, according to Jim Hepple, president & CEO, Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association.
There is a new Hard Rock Resort on the way, but no need to wait for excitement. Bucuti Beach Resort spent $3 million on a new beachfront restaurant with a natural and organic menu, which opened last year.
The latest opening is Blue Residences, the first upscale condominium resort to be built in 20 years on famed Eagle Beach. The first of three planned towers premiered in March. Prospective owners have a choice of two five-bedroom penthouses, four three-bedroom penthouses, 12 three-bedroom units and 24 two-bedroom units, totaling 42 residences.
The 320-room Ritz-Carlton, along the island’s northwestern Palm Beach, marks the company’s fifth hotel in the Caribbean. The brand also has two hotels in Puerto Rico, as well as one in St Thomas and Grand Cayman.
“More charm is coming downtown,” adds tourism’s Luidens-Daryanani. “We’re working to rejuvenate the product with more cafes, more ambiance.”
The only street car in the Caribbean started service last March, a free attraction passing the many retail improvements.
In Aruba’s competitive game of hotel one-upsmanship, Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino may have an edge. Besides proceeding ahead with a $20 million renovation, and being attached to one of Caribbean’s best shopping centres, this favourite in-town property features a 40-acre jaw dropping private island for its guests.
Complimentary water taxis leave every 15 minutes from the hotel’s lobby, designed with a moat leading out into the ocean.
“Even though we’re right in town and convenient for the business traveler, that segment represents only 20 percent of our guests,” says Paul Gielen, general manager. “The rest are here on holiday and enjoy our private beach experience.”
Here’s something else new. Gloria Vega, cruise and niche market manager for the Aruba Tourism Authority, reports a new program to honour guests who have been coming for 35 consecutive years.
“Right now we’ve identified about a hundred such guests,” says Vega.
The Dutch destination remains hot, cooled by a constant breeze and a maybe a bottle of Heineken on the beach.
Chris Roberts is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, Florida.