You know that everything has an “official” and “unofficial” version right?

The Official Version:

Congratulations to the Ministry of Tourism on an excellent Happiness 360 conference in a decked out Convention Center, with interesting speakers, dazzling audio visuals, live streaming, in short all the bells and whistles.

The Minister of Tourism spoke very well, told the crowd how wonderful we are, as did the Prime Minister, delivering a solid vision, an inspirational talk about Aruba, a five star destination with five star medical care and five star educations. He spoke ad lib, no teleprompter.

Then the CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority welcomed dignitaries and concluded the opening remarks, with a big statement about the importance of a destination development plan. I am not sure if Aruba has one or not, but the graphics were outstanding!

Invited VIP Taleb Rifai, the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization spoke softly and intelligently about tourism, what a serious business it is and complimented the MinTour, the MinPres and ATA’s CEO on everything including the color of their shoes. Dr. Robert Waldinger, a famous TED speaker, educated us about what’s important in life, then I had to go to work, and when I returned Richenel Ansabo, spoke about culture and tourism, warning against the quest for anything ‘authentic,’ because that word and the concept excludes immigrant cultures, and recently adopted trends. He was especially critical about “Made in Haiti Souvenirs” stamped Aruba!

The unofficial version, I asked friends for some feedback!

Friend #1: Many of the hotel people were not there because faced with overwhelming challenges they had to stay at work, avoiding the expensive Mutual Admiration Society Fest, and the annual Blow-Your-Own-Horn show.

Friend #2: Eyes were rolling when the MinPres rhapsodized about five-star education and five-star health care, really?? Half of what he said was simply not anchored in reality.

Friend #3: The whole conference opening was flowery and over-congratulatory, as the MinTour, the MinPres, the ATA CEO and the Secretary General, slapped each other on the back, indulging in self-praise.  It’s simply unjustified. When you look at the regional statistics, Aruba’s not that hot.

And look around you, the economy here is suffering.

Friend #4: Basically, we didn’t learn anything new. This cheesy reminder that “material things” don’t make us happy, we know … and then a woman with a bunch of unrelated anecdotes, I also saw her on YouTube, she is a popular speaker, travelling the world to advocate the “Other Accommodations,” which ATA now supports in the name of Sharing Economy, the latest buzzword . . .

Friend #5: And this other BORING Cruise Tourism speaker, putting the room to sleep with a bunch of unrelated figures…maybe the hotel people are all tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, and seeing the bureaucrats talk more than listen?

Friend #6: They missed the opportunity to discuss the latest global trend, as manifested in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice and New Orleans where local people are starting to express anti-tourism sentiments, worried about over development, and their quality of life, as manifested here last week in the petition circulated, “Prime Minister of Aruba: stop nature destruction in Aruba,” and in recent law suits of neighborhoods against developers and the government in Salina Cerca and Malmok.

Friend #7: People who come to Aruba want to just stay on the beach, eat and drink; they don’t care about Culture, Museums, or Heritage, they want a clean beach, clear water, safety for their rental car, good restaurants, reliable WIFI. Stop spending so much money on secondary items, just clean the beach, clean the streets, improve service, encourage culinary excellence, protect nature, that is the “short list,” please stick to it! How is it that we don’t have a single beach cleaner on the government payroll, when this is the #1 reason why people come to Aruba???