From Sui Generis to TPEF

Last week we celebrated five years of the Aruba Tourism Authority Sui Generis project. We were invited to a Business Mixer in town, at the former Carpe Diem location for a networking opportunity hosted by the very hard working Aruba Tourism Authority CEO, Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, the diligent CMO Sanju Luidens Daryanani, with their complete ATA crew in attendance. It was an enjoyable party catered by the Renaissance Resort.

In her welcome address the CEO mentioned the anniversary of her organization, and also cited some super results for calendar year 2015, where the number of stopovers visiting Aruba grew by 14.3%. It sounded good, but the hoteliers among cocktail-party invitees grumbled. They don’t judge success by the number of stopovers. They use RevPAR, revenue per available room as an indicator, and according to them Aruba’s RevPAR increased by 1.0% in 2015 while the RevPAR in the USVI soared by 18%, in Cancun by 14%, and in the Cayman Islands, Saint Lucia and Jamaica by 5% to 12%, compared to same period in 2014, meaning Aruba performed below average. But as I said, it was a super party, an annual hoopla, and the location was fabulous. Our compliment to Glennie Tromp, who thought about the venue.

Sui Generis was an innovative move as far as public policy & governance, because it turned the “Aruba Tourism Authority from a government agency to a unique independent legal entity within the public sphere, allowing a flexible organizational structure and work processes. Thanks to the change in legislation spearheaded by the MinTour, Aruba Tourism Authority has been functioning similarly to a private sector entity in the past five years, removed from government systems and bureaucracy.”

(Above was quoted from an ATA document.)

By changing the legal status of the tourism authority, it meant that all tax money collected from the hotels was to be directly funneled into the ATA coffers, or the Aruba Tourism Marketing Fund, instead of drowning in the government’s treasury, to be eventually allocated to tourism at the whim of the MinFin. The Sui Generis project completely circumvented the MinFin, and it gave tourism the freedom to spend every cent budgeted on promotion.

Sure, the spending is supervised by a joint public/private sector board of directors, but basically the MinTour is the boss.  At the time, the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, whose money was being spent, signed a memorandum of understanding with the MinTour, that he will spend all the money on Promotion and on Promotion only, refraining from spending it on concerts, and special events and misc this and thats which pop up at every turn of the way.

True, the old fashioned 4Ps for marketing include Product, Place, Price AND Promotion, but the wise men and women of the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association argued that all funds should go to the last P, Promotion. Because, leaving the door open for spending on “Product,” they argued, would only give the MinTour a green light to host all kind of petty projects and parties, so consequently, not one penny was allowed to be spent for “Product.”

The hoteliers stuck to the agreement; the MinTour deviated here and there, spending on the Bon Bini Festival and the Carubbian Festival, and basically he kept being himself. That said, I don’t think that we should continue to invest in the Carubbian Festival. Enough. We tried. It did not take off, let’s call it quits.

And that’s how the TPEF was born, the “Tourism Product Enhancement Fund,” when the hoteliers felt “Product” required a little tender loving care, in the form of road signs, trash cans distribution and trash collection, a million little things that remained undone, such as security cameras, street lights, lifeguards, the welfare of stray animals and the Linear Park.

The Aruba Time Share Association, which wasn’t taxed as highly as the hotels, coughed up another percentage to be spent on the improvement of “Product,” and the Tourism Product Enhancement Fund became a reality.

Last year they improved all trash cans in public areas, this year they will make them even bigger, and add lids! They will mark a swim zone in Malmok, 75 meter wide and 1,500 meter long dedicated to swimmers to keep the charter boats out further in the Malmok Aquarium. They will create a swim zone at Arashi. The TPEF projects are solely dedicated to Product Aruba. Some good initiatives were launched, and followed up on, and others remained on several Minister desks’ until the later agreed on what to release and what to discard.

Hoteliers agree they have a lot do as far as “Product” is concerned. While they take care of their properties, the public areas are often neglected, and we often do too little, too late.