The small Caribbean island of Aruba reopened its borders to U.S. travelers just over four months ago, welcoming back visitors from its largest tourism source market who were willing to take a COVID-19 pretest.
Sanju Luidens, chief marketing officer for the Aruba Tourism Authority, said the nation has reported just 86 positive coronavirus cases among the more than 66,000 international travelers who have visited since its July 10 tourism reboot.
“So, we know that the system we put in place is one that is working,” Luidens said. “And we are very satisfied with that, and the visitors traveling to Aruba have been very complimentary.”
So, we know that the system we put in place is one that is working.
Americans heading to Aruba must either provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken no longer than 72 hours before their departure or undergo a test upon arrival at the airport. Visitors must also pay $30 for mandatory Aruba visitor insurance — which covers medical expenses if they test positive on the island — and complete an online health self-assessment form.
Janet Mosley, the owner of Leisure Lady Travel in Westland, Mich., said the arrivals process went smoothly during her visit to Aruba in September.
“I was in and out of that airport in 15 minutes,” she explained. “It was just quick and easy.”
Mosley originally intended to make that trip in July, but she was unable to find a testing provider who could guarantee she would have results in time to meet Aruba’s mandated 72-hour window. Mosley has since located a test facility nearby that she trusts to turn around COVID-19 results quickly, but she said labs reliably offering rapid results remain a rarity.
“The challenge is finding a place that can consistently get you what you need,” Mosley said, noting she now suggests the same facility to all her clients taking vacations that require pretests.
RELATED: Firsthand Tips From a Travel Advisor: Working, Living and Virtual Learning in Aruba
Mosley was quick to insist that her September visit to Aruba was terrific, and she has booked a few visits for clients to the destination since — which she credits to social media posts she shared while in the destination.
“I think what’s not getting across to people, somehow, is that the hotels and the destinations have adapted,” Mosley said. “They’ve prepared. And, along with them preparing and you are preparing and being aware, you can travel. I think a lot of people are thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s like it was before COVID-19.’ No, things have changed.”
Aruba Tourism’s Luidens said the destination welcomed nearly 59,000 American visitors between July and the end of October this year, and it has seen an uptick in bookings for the 2020 holiday season.
“Every month, we’ve seen an increase in arrivals from the U.S. market,” Luidens said, noting American visitor totals are about 22% of what they were over the same period last year. “We expect an increase in air seats from the U.S. market of 45% in November over October. … And then in December, we have a 26% increase month over month.”
Ray Snisky, group president of Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV), said the wholesaler’s bookings to Aruba in July were off nearly 90% year over year, but he said business to the destination has steadily improved in the months since.
“Our advance November and December bookings are looking stronger, with declines [year over year] in the 55% range,” Snisky said. “2021 is looking better still. Q1 is off just 50%. Hotels have dropped their pricing, so there has never been a better time to visit the destination, based on price.”
Hotels have dropped their pricing, so there has never been a better time to visit the destination, based on price.
Tracy Price, who co-owns Detroit-based 2 Sisters Travel, also visited Aruba in September, and while the trip was her first to the small Caribbean island, the destination made a big impression.
“It was just wonderful,” she said, noting that she felt safe throughout the visit. “Everyone was wearing masks and paying close attention to social distancing. Plus, the food was just terrific.”
Price was impressed during tours of a number of properties during her weeklong trip, and was pleased with her stay at a Marriott timeshare unit featuring a kitchen. When planning her next visit, however, Price has one hotel in mind.
“If you said, ‘Tracy, you get to go back and you get to choose,’ I would stay at Bucuti & Tara,” she said. “I would love to stay there. It’s a boutique resort and everything there is upscale. … But you don’t get an over-the-top feel. It was elegant and comfortable.”
Snisky, meanwhile, said his company was high on Aruba overall, and he noted AMRresorts, an ALGV-managed company, has kicked off a project to bring the first Secrets Resorts & Spa-branded property to the island. The 600-key Secrets Baby Beach Aruba will be located alongside Baby Beach — not far from St. Nicholas — and is tentatively slated to open in 2023.
Luidens said JetBlue will also debut new nonstop service from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport on Nov. 21 this year. She noted that carriers have now restarted service on all the destination’s previously existing air routes, though frequency still remains off year over year.
Luidens also said advisors have been a key part of the island’s tourism restart, and the destination has worked hard to keep them up to date with regular webinars. She said Aruba is working to put together a few upcoming advisor familiarity tours, including one slated for later this year, to get more travel professionals to the island.
I think what’s not getting across to people, somehow, is that the hotels and the destinations have adapted. And along with them preparing and you preparing and you being aware, you can travel.
Mosley described the Aruba Tourism Authority as a terrific partner in recent months and said the organization has been “invaluable” in her effort to promote and market the Caribbean destination to clients.
“Its Facebook group for Aruba Travel Experts is updated at least once a week with tips and interviews from properties or product providers,” Mosley said. “I really believe the island’s success during this time is directly related to the Aruba Tourism Authority’s outstanding work.”
While Mosley and Price both said they were eager to return to Aruba, the two agents were, on the other hand, somewhat surprised and disappointed with their American Airlines experience on a connecting flight between Detroit and Charlotte, N.C., noting that no seats were left empty for social distancing.
“They had us packed in,” Price said of the connecting flight. “The second flight from Charlotte, N.C. to Aruba wasn’t as bad because it didn’t have as many passengers, so you could sort of spread out.”
Crowded connecting flights aside, both advisors were quick to mention extraordinary encounters with Aruba’s legendarily friendly residents — just another of the destination’s key selling points.
“The people are so personable,” Mosley said. “You immediately feel like you’re with family.”
Aruba Tourism Authority