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A Destination Under Scrutiny - Aruba - One Happy Island
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by John R. Hendrie, March 2006

A jewel in the Caribbean crown of memorable Destinations, Aruba delivers a wonderful Visitor Experience.  You do feel very safe and welcome; the islanders are joyous, sparkling with enthusiasm and hospitality. Yet, Visitors still must balance perception with the reality. 

Her name is on our minds – a most unfortunate incident – still unsolved after nine months  – the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

The case put Aruba on the International map – a lovely Caribbean island caught in the harsh spotlight of the carnivorous media machine and the public appetite for sensationalism.  

The intrigue lingers in the background of your visit.  When queried, everyone there has an opinion – from the Managing Director of a Resort complex, to your Taxi Cab driver, to your waitress, to a Tourism Official.  They grieve for the loss, they are alarmed that the public really only knows the spin of questionable “journalists”, they are numbed that their Island, known for Hospitality, security and almost perfect weather, has suffered such ignominy.  

Having just returned from a five day Holiday (a birthday gift from my sons), peeling, rested, revitalized, please allow me to present a perspective.  Just as their license plate proclaims, Aruba is “One Happy Island”. 

But, not to second guess Island Officials, I do think that Aruba misjudged the media attention and did not effectively present the efforts undertaken there to provide a full picture of their response to the still unfolding unfortunate situation.  This is an extremely sensitive issue in Aruba, and the situation goes beyond normal “Damage Control” for Destinations beset with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tsunamis. One incident, one individual continues to roil the once gentle waters.

I look at Johnson and Johnson with Tylenol and even Wendy’s with the chili ingredient and admire the approach the respective companies immediately implemented to address a crisis.  They simply took the wind out of the media sails, comforted the public with their concern, attention and action, and managed the situation through effective, honest and timely communication.  

Aruba, I am told, has done about as much as a Destination could do, but we, the public, their potential Visitors, simply do not know that.  About 72% of their Visitor traffic comes from the US, which is besieged and bombarded with news – print, on-line, television.  And, we all love a good story, the more lurid and unsettling the better.   Yellow journalism lives!   Aruba misjudged our appetite, which is fed daily with detail, intrigue, innuendo and possibilities.  In short, the Island did not effectively put into place a Crisis Management Plan at the onset, and they certainly need something substantial in place now. 
 
First hand, I can assure you that we were treated courteously and generously.  My sons, of the late 20’s tribe, were out almost every night until 3 am, enjoying the bars, the casinos, the nightlife, and, at no point did they feel threatened or unsafe. The same temptations exist here as elsewhere.  Even with the aftermath of Carnivale, where the capital city of Oranjestad was a bit overzealous, police and good nature prevailed.  I might add that the food was terrific, the weather unrelentingly perfect, and the Hospitality bountiful.  And, I read that $230M is being invested in the Tourism product, impacting every facet of the Industry to further elevate the Visitor Experience – from renovation at the resorts, new construction, expansion of the Airport, to improved docking access for the Ocean Liners.  But, the first question I am asked when I tell people about our visit is, “Have they found the young woman yet?”  The intrigue and the impact continue!

It is very easy to become embroiled in the debate on whether or not the Holloway case has been handled appropriately in a legal fashion.  Beyond the media frenzy and the political sensibilities (US versus a sovereign entity and even the Alabama boycott), the net result is that the story has “legs”, and, Aruba, as a Destination, will continue to be affected.  And, we, the Consumer, are left buffeted by the media wind, therefore, becoming very circumspect with a travel decision. 

It is a shame Aruba was not at the forefront with a strategic Crisis Management focus.  Millions are spent on Brand Marketing, but their reputation has been tarnished. A first rate publicist or Public Relations Firm should have been retained as the “story” rocketed.  Catch up and changing perception are tough assignments!  The response will be debated for years.  I am still curious about Aruban effort to date.

I shall return to Aruba, and I shall pass along the good news, for our Visitor Experience was simply splendid.

The author, John Hendrie, believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to that memorable Visitor Experience. To learn more, please visit:  www.hospitalityperformance.com

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Contact:

John R. Hendrie, CEO
Hospitality Performance, Inc.
978-346-4387
www.hospitalityperformance.com 

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Also See: Aruba Forging Ahead with a $230 million Investment in Tourism—the Island’s Largest Expansion and Renovation Campaign in Years / March 2006


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