Exuberant Aruba

Special festivals and programs are being rolled out

By: Barbara Correa

While other destinations are struggling with the effects of a down U.S. economy and an unstable global political climate, business is booming on Aruba.

The tiny Caribbean island lured 10,000 more Americans in the first half of this year than last, and saw a 14.2 percent bump in tourism in June and July alone, the Aruba Tourism Authority reported earlier this year.

The fall travel numbers had not been released at press time, but expectations are high, according to tourism representatives.

Clients will be able to get from the West Coast to Aruba in a day’s travel soon, particularly as American Airlines is scheduled to begin its first nonstop service from Los Angeles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in December.

Aruba is a one-hour hop from San Juan on American/American Eagle.

The island will welcome representatives to its annual Certified Expert Convention Oct. 30 through Nov. 3.

The convention is expected to bring together more than 1,900 Aruba travel specialists from around the world.

This year’s event marks the first time that international delegates will participate, including experts from Europe and South America.

The Aruba Tourism Authority and the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association co-sponsor the certified expert program.

Candidates can choose a home-study course in print or online or attend a four-hour seminar.

Participants gain access to exclusive fam trips, a rewards program, cash-back bonuses and other booking incentives.

As the U.S. summer travel season wound down, Aruba extended the season by promoting its second annual Music Festival, featuring Crosby, Stills & Nash on Oct. 10 and Chicago on Oct. 11.

Both shows were sellouts, producing a dramatic increase in visitors as nearly all of the island’s hotel rooms were booked for the weekend. In all, the music festival is being described as a tremendous success.

“It was only the second time we’ve done this,” said Cristina Rivas, a spokeswoman for the Aruba Tourism Authority.

“But we really worked out any kinks from last year and the festival went very smooth,” she said.

The effect of the music festival on the island’s tourism industry was being felt long before the acts took the stage.

“In the first three weeks we advertised, we had over 900 phone calls,’’ said Mark Benson, Caribbean marketing director for GoGo Vacations, one of Aruba’s biggest suppliers.

“I take my hat off to the Aruba Tourism Authority and the way they are always looking for new hooks to hang the island on,’’ Benson said.

GoGo Worldwide Vacations offered packages that included tickets to the shows. Preparations already have begun for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Carnival, scheduled for February 2004.

Despite all the recent and coming events in Aruba, most visitors to the island are simply looking for the typical Caribbean resort experience something involving a tropical cocktail and a lounge chair.

One of the draws of the island, however, is that there’s a lot more to Aruba than just white sand and blue waters.

The island’s capital of Oranjestad is a wonder in itself: think Amsterdam in bright pastels. Along with its heritage as a Dutch conquest, the local culture is sprinkled with linguistic and culinary influences from Europe, Africa and South America.

Most natives of Aruba speak Dutch, English, Spanish and the native Creole dialect Papiamento, the source of the ubiquitous “bonbini,’’ or welcome.

There’s no shortage of dining options in Aruba, and there are several Dutch-inspired microbreweries on the island as well. The island’s award-winning Balashi beer is served on neighboring Curacao and Bonaire too.

In fact, one of the more unusual tours is run by the Aruba Gastronomic Association.

Member restaurants, whose offerings range from Cuban to Brazilian to Caribbean sushi, can be sampled on commissionable dine-around programs, starting at $109 per person for three separate dinners at participating restaurants. Commissions are 10 percent.


Aruba Gastronomic Association

800-793-6028, 914-277-5753


Aruba Tourism Authority

(ACE Program and Convention)