According to my sources the chairman of the joint board ATA/AHATA was given indication that the poop would hit the fan.
For the benefit of my uninformed readers, yes, there is such a thing, a private and public sector board that is in principle in charge of the Aruba Tourism Authority purse-string.
When the Aruba Tourism Authority was privatized, in 2012, a joint board was created to supervise expenditure, with 3 ATA members, 3 AHATA members and one lucky chairperson, the lovable-huggable Jossy Lacle.
The AHATA members Joe Najjar, a hotelier, Jim Hepple, a technocrat, and Javier Wolter, a banker, represent the interests of the private sector, and recently they have been feeling no love, and no support from the public sector. So they decided to resign from the board, which in fact pulled the plug on any significant ATA marketing spending.
The issue of contention: The MinTour’s famous urgent insistence on changing the law governing the way hotels are licensed. He is in a rush, while they say slow down; let’s stew on it a bit longer. He says what do you mean longer? You’ve had time enough to think about it since May! They say let ATA stay out of the melee, but the MinTour makes sure ATA is in full alignment with government policy. They say, you cannot change the rules mid-game, leave us along, regulate any new hotel developers when they come along, and he says, I have already sent the law change proposal to Parliament for approval. And that is how they locked heads.
According to the MinTour the island is in imminent danger, our livelihood compromised, in view of the fact that a number of hotel properties are said to be converting to All-Inclusives. He is pushing to control and restrict that by law.
The hoteliers suggest a cooling off period to study the situation and commit to the status-quo, namely no All-Inclusive conversions for one year.
There were a number of meetings between the rival factions in past weeks; the last one that broke the camel’s back went as expected. The MinTour managed to get himself all worked up, ranting and raving, demanding compliance. (He is like that, a bull in a China store, but I’m coming to his defense further down the column.)
Then AHATA gave him, in writing, a letter that was signed by most of the hotel owners giving him assurances they will not convert nor sell to an All-Inclusive hotel for the next 12 months provided he agrees to a cooling off period to allow further introspection. It was what he challenged AHATA with at a previous meeting. So they delivered the assurance and he turned it down, impatient, with clearly no intention of follow up on that suggestion.
I have been writing about tourism for almost 25 years and never experienced a stalemate like that. The MinTour got himself into a very tight spot; it’s his way or the highway! I don’t ever remember such a divided field, not under Minister Tico Croes, not under Minister Lily Beke, and of course not under Minister Edison Briesen, who cleverly always got out of the way!
In defense of the MinTour: The man is a workhorse, and an important vote-getter. His fans are many and loyal. As a populist leader he would like to legislate the number of All-Inclusive resorts on the island so that guests aren’t imprisoned in their hotels, but get to roam the island to explore restaurants and attractions, renting cars and taking taxis. I totally agree that Aruba is not a typical All-Inclusive Island, and doesn’t “need” it, but the product is in customer demand and should be offered, as long as it is trending. One of my friends, a man whose opinions I respect told me: You are in agreement that the MinTour should regulate the AirBnB market segment and the Venezuelan market segment, then why not the All-Inclusive market segment? No law can ever be written without loop holes. AHATA should look at the legislation, tweak and request some changes, then exploit every loophole in the language of the law to their benefit, and continue to use All-Inclusive as a marketing tool at their discretion. His advice: Play nice with the MinTour he might be MinPres one day!