Successful Meetings: Aruba and Holland have embarked on a joint meetings marketing program. How did that happen?
Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO, Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association (AHATA): Aruba is part of the Netherlands, but has a unique status, called status aparte, in which it remains separate from the Netherlands but maintains a great deal of communication. When AHATA announced its interest in developing the meetings market, the North America for Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) was entrepreneurial enough to get in touch with us to say, "Why don't we do something together?"
Conrad Von Tiggelen, director, NBTC: Specifically, our sales people who cover the Northeast, West Coast, and Canada just started making joint sales calls this January 1, representing both Aruba and Holland. We can now offer a cultural product in Europe, and a good-weather, fun Caribbean destination. The effort gives us more possibilities, and it's more cost efficient for both parties.
SM: According to America Online, the Natalee Holloway disappearance story was the most frequently searched news story on the Internet. What do you have to say about this tragedy?
Pesquera: The people of Aruba have a lot of empathy and support for the family of Natalee Holloway. And they take any crime against an American, or any visitor, very seriously; it's like something against their whole family. Unfortunately, that has not been properly communicated in the media so far.
Von Tiggelen: Arubans genuinely like Americans. It is not always the case in Europe or in the Caribbean. Americans feel very comfortable in Aruba, and they feel that the hospitality is genuine.
SM: How has the story affected meetings?
Pesquera: We've had a couple of leads that have gone elsewhere. But this is also our second consecutive year of record occupancies. Year-to-date, overall occupancy on the island is running somewhere in the low 80s.
SM: What will you do about this issue moving forward?
Pesquera: We plan to be aggressive in getting the message of Aruba being the same hospitable, friendly, beautiful, pristine, safe destination through to all our travel partners. There's a website called aruba truth.com, where we will have as much detailed information about the investigation as can be shared within the restrictions of law. We'll also provide a response to misguided statements, such as that of the governor of Alabama, who called for a boycott of Aruba.
We have letters of support posted on the site that basically say, "Boycotts make no sense." They don't represent the spirit of free enterprise and camaraderie that should exist between the U.S. and the Netherlands.