Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, July 23rd, 2017

Fund Raising with Marisol

For Saturday, a digital invitation described a modest fundraising event in my neighborhood, given by Marisol Tromp, now on the POR list.

After arguing with Google Maps about the location of Salina Cerca 27 –  it first took me to the other side of the salina – I arrived at a family residence where Marisol was hosting an open house.  It was an informal affair, people came and went the whole afternoon, handing Awg 25 over to the volunteers and receiving a take-out meal ticket.

The political candidate, in high-heeled red platform shoes, skinny jeans and a cap, black tresses flowing, welcomed her guests with a high energy, engaging smile.

“My mother told me I will lose my liberty as a politician. At the beginning of my career I did not understand what she meant, but I know now,” she told her small audience. Then she went on to thank each and every one present for their support, by first, last name, and barrio of origin.

I greeted Marisol’s parents, living down my street for many years, had a beer and chatted with the candidate.  The way she explained it, the role of the support team, the vote-getters, is super-important, as each candidate creates a cadre of disciples, who in turn recruit other voters.

“My team has been with me from the very start she says, through a MEP government, to AVP and now to POR. I rely greatly on their help to make things happen.”

In my view, Marisol is in possession of good political instincts. While many locals fault her for moving her cheese from a Social Democrat, to a Christian Democrat, now to a Question-Mark Democrat party, I think as a politician she should be applauded for not fixating on traditional leadership, but marching to her own drum and seeking alliances across the political arena.

(Remember, she voted against party line, against the refinery, Good Girl!)

The island welcomed Marisol’s political debut enthusiastically. She entered the arena in 2001, fresh and dynamic with 4,708 votes, as a first time candidate. That is unusually high. She was #4 on the MEP list, and we were thrilled to usher an educated woman into government.

She climbed up the list to #2 in 2005, and collected 4,392 votes out of 22,002 for MEP. Still very strong.

But frustration set in, as the opposition harped on her friends & family brand of nepotism and in the 2009 election, as #2 on the list she garnered 2,880 votes out of 19,804 for MEP. In the last election, 2013, she occupied an honor spot, closing the list as #29, with 1,643 votes out of 33,114 for AVP.

Then mid-term she declared her independence and now she is part of the POR lineup presenting itself as a government alternative, and if reason prevails over undeserving loyalty, she will become a Minister under POR, when it forms a coalition with MEP, or AVP – who knows, politics make strange bed-fellows.

Before leaving I went to greet candidate Andin Bikker, and as is his custom, he complimented me on my looks and immediately wanted to know how my friends Carla was. At least he did not pay me his regular kill-joy compliment: “How good you look…for your age, like old wine.”

The Tara Wing Suites complete renovations

I recently went to see what the new and improved Tara Wing Suites looks like. Adjacent to the Bucuti it just underwent a $5 million investment which included all 44 suites, penthouses and bungalows as well as the lobby and the lobby lounge.

Not surprisingly, it all looks luxurious, laid back, and very inviting, with original artwork by local artist Elisa Lejuez, displayed throughout the property.

As you all know the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is the most decorated resorts on the island with endless environmental recognitions besides too-numerous-to-mention awards of excellence, and off-the-chart guest satisfaction scores.

Living up to its reputation, the newly renovated suites are a symphony of white, cream, and beige with orange accents. The beds are amazingly comfortable and best of all, no need o crawl under the desk to find the outlet for your phone or tablet, multiple electric docks are visible above the desk. The bedroom portion of the space has many cool features, a sleek, paper-thin TV, an air purifier removing all allergens and a de-humidifier, getting rid of excessive odor-causing moisture. Separated by a sliding glass partition, the living area and kitchenette offer comfortable, relaxing spaces for in-room dining and unwinding.

While all rooms are graced with spectacular views from their ocean front terraces, the penthouses also boast full kitchens! Guest bathrooms were completely remodeled with walk in showers, giant shower heads, double vanities, and a TV screen embedded in the mirror, so you don’t miss a thing!.

Downstairs, in the lobby, the elegant lounge serves breakfast every day, included in the room rate; it also provides a great hide away from the sun during the day.

Gorgeous pool, world-famous beach, glass enclosed restaurant, an open air deck setting for Elements Restaurant, a stylish beach bar, thatch beach palapas, it’s all picture-perfect.

Thank you Ewald and Tisa for the tour, and good salad for lunch, you make it seem effortless.

From the official press release:

Named by Green Globe as the World’s Most Sustainable Hotel/Resort, Bucuti has a 30-year history of using only materials that help protect the endangered environment. All materials including paint and the new high-quality furniture is LEED-approved, a sustainability standard Bucuti incorporates into its work as one of the only LEED Silver certified properties in the Caribbean. Additionally, a new air conditioning VRF system featuring the latest sustainable technology in the field was installed providing guests with the highest air quality.

The boutique resort’s management team is renowned for its round-the-clock dedication to building relationships with its guests with a keen interest in learning what they want in a vacation. Renovations to the Tara Wing suites, penthouses and bungalows is yet another nod toward giving them what they want.

“We renovate long before wear and tear begins to appear because we believe Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort’s guests deserve the best experience for choosing to spend their vacation with us,” says Ewald Biemans, owner and CEO of Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort. “The Tara Wing renovation reflects our dedication our guests and to romance, wellness and sustainability.

About Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort

Named the No. 1 Hotel for Romance in the Caribbean for 2017, and No. 1 Hotel in the Caribbean for two years in a row by guest-driven TripAdvisor, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is Aruba’s premier adults-only boutique resort. Led by celebrated hotelier and environmentalist, Ewald Biemans, the resort is nestled on the powdery white sands of Eagle Beach, home to protected sea turtles and named one of the “Dream Beaches of the World.” Bucuti offers 104 well-appointed guestrooms, suites and penthouses; sunbeds and shade for every guest; fresh water infinity pool; spa; WiFi; and complimentary iPad with Skype for use during stay. Award-winning, fresh, healthy dining is enjoyed at oceanfront Elements; epicurean-lovers’ Carte Blanche; Tara Lounge; and private beach dining. Reserved exclusively for guests and their friends, the open-air SandBar on the beach offers top-shelf cocktails and live music daily. The resort is TAG Approved® as a gay friendly hotel. Bucuti, a worldwide sustainable tourism leader, holds eco-certifications of LEED Silver, Green Globe Platinum, ISO 14001 and Travelife Gold.

Chef Bas delighted us at De Suikertuin

Did you know the sugar garden has a new owner, Dutch-born  F&B professional Kim D’Hont.

Kim has been living here for at least a decade and a half. She did the rounds, starting at Que Pasa in its former location. She was then recruited by the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino to run Simply Fish; she transitioned to the Taste of Belgium for 6 years, then relocated to Side Bar at the Renaissance Marketplace, before spreading her wings on her own.

Recently, the opportunity presented itself, and she took De Suikertuin over. Owner Willeke Volgers, who also created the charming eatery, expressed her desire to sell — she is involved in other projects, and Kim said I do. She plans to run it as a modern European restaurant, serving lunch & dinner, and drinks.

On Friday night the local food & beverage community, foodies and friends came out to support Kim on her theme night debut, for Chef Bas’ New Latin Menu, a spectacular 4 course extravaganza.

Chef Bas is the culinary wizard of 2 Fools & a Bull Gourmet Studio, and on his off day he ventured out to cook for 60 guests at De Suikertuin. Practically all guests were his friends and fans.

We had a spectacular dinner, paired with wines carefully selected by the chef, kudos to Kim and her crew for a much enjoyed soiree.

Chef  Bas Kuurstra is a local favorite, he is as sweet as he is tall, and loveable.

His career meandered a bit. He started at Scandals, Renaissance Marketplace, a short lived café with gourmet aspirations. After that the chef wandered around. He took on two jobs with great pay checks, and abandoned them when he found out that money doesn’t float his boat. He spent some time at Tierra del Sol with chef Jim Rooseman which he appreciates, then decided to become independent, registering “Rent A Chef,” his own company, delivering quality catering into private home.

The beginning was tough. He used to go to Superfood, he says, stand at a cashiers’ and tell his story promoting Rent A Chef to friends and acquaintances checking out their groceries; he did that every day until the idea caught fire and chef Bas was the world’s busiest, working out of makeshift kitchens, delivering culinary greatness in impossible locations.

Then the fool, from 2 Fool and a Bull called. I guess he is not that stupid. He lured Bas to his Gourmet Studio, and the rest is history. It has been a great year and a half, Chef Bas reports, cooking for 14 special guests every night, changing menus frequently, and enjoying family time.

Our menu, in case you are curious:

Amuse: Galdo Gallego – white bean soup topped by truffle cream, parmesan cheese and pancetta.

Appetizer: Chicharron Y Atun –  Seared tuna with chilly pieces, crispy pork belly, mango cucumber, cilantro lime vinaigrette, avocado mousse, mofongo & papaya mayo.

Main course: Carni Asada – Yuzu citrus marinated beef from the BBQ, served over a black bean puree, roast carrot, tequila shrimp, green bean sofrito, pickled onions and concon rice.

Dessert: Dolce de leche – Crème Catalan of dulce di leche and coconut with a hint of sea salt, topped with a peanut brittle ice cream.

Everything was to-live-for yummy!!

A brief from Edith van der Wal Turtugaruba: Leatherback hatchlings lost direction.

Last Tuesday morning at 4 am one of the Leatherback nests on Eagle Beach has hatched before the regular incubation period was completed. Normally Leatherback nests will hatch in between 60 – 70 days after the eggs are laid.

But this nest came out earlier, unexpected, and the extra protection that Turtugaruba normally places around every nest from day 60 was not in place yet. The hatchlings were attracted by the artificial lights of Boulevard and hotels. Some hatchlings were run over by cars on the road.

The various governments over the past twenty years have been primarily concerned with making as much money in as little time as possible, instead of contributing to the sustainability of our beaches and sea, for example by regulation of artificial light visible on turtle beaches. Permission is granted for the construction of too many hotels, bars and condominiums along the sea shore. Turtugaruba, the foundation that has been responsible for the protection of sea turtles for over twenty years, is extremely concerned.

Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles have already abandoned Palm Beach as a nesting site, due to all the facilities for human entertainment.

It seems that Eagle Beach will be next. The tireless care, night and day, of the foundation’s volunteers, will all have been in vain.

There are plans for another high rise hotel, and on the Leatherback’s favorite nesting site, beside the Costa Linda Resort, the government has build a bar. Until late at night there’s lots of activity, and cars shine their headlights on the beach. The grape trees that protected this spot from the artificial lights of street lanterns and cars, have been cut back. Nature has been sacrificed for alcohol and noise.

Our oldest “repeat guests”, the Leatherback sea turtles, that depend on this beach for their existence, will not survive.

Nesting sites are protected by law on Aruba, but these local laws are not complied with by our own governments. In this respect, Aruba is not fulfilling its international liabilities either.

Nature is losing out, and sustainable development goals (SDG) are sadly forgotten.

So how effective has ATA really been, and at what cost.

I just saw the “State of the Tourism Industry” report for the 1st half of 2017. It’s eighteen pages long and it has nice graphs.

The report was sent out by ATA and it speaks well of the organization.

The timing of the report is not coincidental in view that elections are just a few weeks away.

So what does the report include?

Key Tourism Performance Indicators.

The average annual growth between 2011 and 2016 is especially encouraging: Tourist Receipts +4%; Stay-over visitor arrivals +5.2%; Cruise passenger arrivals +2.3% and revenue per available room +5.2%.

Nice.

What does the report leave out?

Conveniently, the report leaves one very important statistic out, namely ATA’s expenditure which is not included in the graphs. So indeed gains have been realized, but at what cost? What did this growth cost?

Whilst tourism receipts, revpar, stay-over and cruise arrivals have enjoyed an increase between 2.5% and 5.2%, ATA’s expenditure has increased as well, by more than double that number, 11%.

Many of the hoteliers feel that the chart of key tourism indicators should also include an expenditure line.

What would a balance sheet be without expenses? If they had presented their boards with a list of their accomplishments without indicating how much they spent in order to get there, they would be losing their jobs.

If the report is to be treated with respect, then add the expense line to the graph, otherwise it is just a piece of election propaganda.

 

Gateway 2030

The airport recently presented its vision Gateway 2030 under the “Innovating Happiness” subtitle. The presentation outlined the future expansion and redevelopment of Reina Beatrix.

The new vision was created to accommodate the projected growth of our tourism, and to enhance the passenger experience, besides increasing the efficiency of the airport facility.

Right now the good folks at AAA are running a TWO in ONE airport, but in the future their vision implies just ONE integrated gateway with Check In, Immigration, Document Control and Security in a central space, then passengers will be split to Non-US Bound and US Bound before the gates.

What this vision means in numbers? The airport will be able to handle 1,638 passengers an hour, and the pre-clearance peak passenger count could increase to 1,360.

Bags? Peak bag handling could reach a record of 2,178 bags per hour, with the help of a sophisticated baggage handling system.

That’s a lot to keep track of.

Basically the airport will be expanded on both ends to offer a large common check in hall, new airline offices, a combined facility for immigration and security, a revamped shopping and leisure area, new baggage processing systems, more exciting F&B — I am all for that —  and pier expansion, allowing more aircraft contact and bus-gates, with larger waiting areas.

Finally, the airport will also receive a goods delivery point, a staff checkpoint, and a waste collection point,  that, IMAGINE, it doesn’t have at the moment.

The project will go on in phases, starting hopefully with the project definition and design-brief mid 2017. Then the plan must be architecturally and structurally designed. The tender phase is another challenge, as AAA invites bids for the project, submitted within the deadline, and within budget. There is a lot of money involved and I hope the airport can safeguard against political manipulation in the naming of the contractor, and during the construction period, expected to wind down in second quarter of 2022!!

The Gateway 2030 report concludes with projected arrival of one million passengers from the USA, by 2031. Or 1,450.000 passengers overall.

As expected: Airport fees will go up to over $60 but it will all be worth it, I hear, and within norm in the Caribbean.