Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, May 22nd, 2016

Barcadera – a union battle ground

It seems to me that Edward Maduro, the head of the Customs’ Union is trying to build himself an empire, with its own special rules and privileges. What better way to demonstrate how powerful and influential he is, than by paralyzing the port? All of a sudden, we all recognize his name, and we’re totally impressed with the tactics he employs. Not.

Barcadera is not a Mickey Mouse port, anymore. It is an international harbor with proper security measures, managed and enforced by ASTEC. While the Aruba Port Authority is the landlord, ASTEC is responsible for a smooth operation. And its rules seem reasonable and appropriate, designed to maintain adequate security.

Dear Customs Agents: As citizens of this island we are totally outraged that you paralyzed the gateway of fresh produce and merchandize because you wouldn’t submit to security checks at the gate. Why should you be exempt?

The rule seems clear enough, a licensed car and one licensed driver, may drive in, the rest of the passengers should get out of the car and stroll through the gates, undergoing security checks, on foot.

How does that humiliate you as Customs Agents?

Ban serio. How does that disrupt your job?

I read a bit about the subject of strikes, studying the difference between lawful and unlawful strikes, which depends on the PURPOSE of the strike.

Really, you’re gonna shut down the port because ASTEC wants you to walk two meters??

For a strike to stick and be recognized as lawful, in needs to fall into one of two categories: ECONOMIC injustice/disadvantage and/or UNFAIR LOBOR PRACTICE.

Really, is getting out of the car to walk two meters through the gate, an unfair labor practice??

I have to conclude that Edward Maduro is just building his own reputation as a strongman, a macho, a labor leader, and the Head of Customs should wake up to show him which side it up, before he starts taking himself too seriously.

A sign of the times: DeliFrance closed its doors

I know two people on the planet that are potentially upset by the closing of DeliFrance on the boulevard: The writer of this column and Warren Stanley, of De Palm Tours.

I went to DeliFrance for its bread, when the cravings for carbs, heaped with Filet Americain, capers and mayo, possessed me.  Warren went to DeliFrance because of its proximity to his office.

Looking back at the situation, we all have to admit that as soon as SuperFood moved up the boulevard, also offering a shopping plaza, the old neighborhood around Sun Plaza lost its appeal. Then the Green Corridor hermetically blocked the access from the main drag, preventing spontaneous walkins from veering off the highway, into the lunch-room. Then paid parking was introduced, then the government started digging. They did not say why, they did not say for how long. They just tore up the strip, keeping a more off than on work schedule. It took about three month to completely dry the stream of diners to DeliFrance, and when the business died, Riccardo Solci, decided to close it.

The construction company, he says, has no sense of urgency, they have all the time in the world, in total disregard of business, suffering from the dugout, dusty street, with stalled heavy equipment everywhere.

So that’s it. The well-established lunch-room with the addictive bread, since 2006, is looking for new owners. By the way, the original DeliFrance concept is hard to maintain because of considerable difficulties in importing the part-baked, and ready-to-bake goods. But what’s there is very attractive, a turn-key operation and it would work well with the right concept, providing the government concludes the rainwater drainage project in front.

As I said before, Riccardo is a perfectionist, which is both a blessing and a curse. He is a sprinter, not a long distance runner, and by now he lost patience.

A restaurant in that location would be well served as a Pollo Tropicale for example, if the new owners figure out a drive thru window.  Anyone interested?

Two game-changers in discussion, what my friends say about them

On the subject of the refinery, I polled my friends for opinions and this is what one of them said, even before we heard from Argus Media: http://www.argusmedia.com/news/article/?id=1241656

“Honestly, let’s first see what they signed. Might be again one of those MOUs; basically toilet paper of the quality they use in Ethiopia. I do not believe they signed serious agreements. And once they do, I would love to read them. I will continue to say that I do not believe in signing deals with a country like Venezuela (one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel) or a company like CITGO at this time. These guys (Aruba) are desperate, and will cut deals at terms I am very interested to learn more about. Plus, negotiating deals and terms in the newspapers will only give the Venezuelans more power to squeeze their very tiny little nuts.”

Another friend just shrugged, labeling the photo op: A sprint to inconsequence…

On the critical subject of the hotel licensing law change. One of my friends explained it was headed up by a confused MinTour and supported by a number of spoiled, know-it-all business people. He also reminded me that the voice of reason might lose this battle because the MinPres made a deal with the MinTour, that if the MinTour stays in government, his wish will be granted, and the MinPres will personally make sure the AVP Parliamentarians vote in favor of the law change, giving the MinTour power to tower over the hotels and dictate their business models.

(At the time the agreement was made, we didn’t fully understand the implications of the suggested law change, the way we do now, as it was not studied sufficiently, it was not prepared well, the ordinance they are using is inappropriate, they did not present sufficient evidence for their claims, there is no socio-economic impact study, they did not prove that a lack of regulation is a problem, the changes suggested in the law are not relevant to the challenges on hand, a switch in strategies to pursue a “market-oriented” approach would be more beneficial in answering tourists’ needs, besides the big questions, why would competition be restricted, and why would you create an unfriendly environment for foreign investment? A more scientific, fact-based approach should be taken, instead of just sticking to commercial interests.)

Anyway, I am afraid, that in spite of the above this battle is lost, and will result in all the island’s lawyers getting richer because this will be litigated and quagmire in court for ages. Like any political battle it’s about power, not principle!

Shopping anyone?

The island’s luxury goods retailers founded an association, ALRA, some time ago, designed to lobby in government circles, on behalf of the luxury goods industry

What makes luxury goods so special, that they require a lobbying body?

I’ll tell you.

All retailers are allowed to set their own prices and decide how much money they want to make on the products they sell. In the luxury goods category the manufacturer of the products sets the price across currencies and continents, the price is the same everywhere, and retailers cannot discount and/or increase the price of a Gucci bag or Prada glasses for example. The price is the price, set by the mother-ship in Italy, France, or Switzerland.

Thus if the government changes the local taxation structure introducing BBO/BAZV/VAT, or any other form of collective punishment, the retailer’s gotta eat it.

Unless the government ‘gets it,’ and makes exceptions where possible, to allow the luxury goods segment of the market to survive.

And that is why ALGRA was founded, to explain to the MinFin and the MinEcon and the MinTour, that we are blessed with exceptionally great shopping retailers on Aruba, and that they are having a tough time, in a tough market, being taxed twice, at the port of entry, AND at the point of exit, could the government consider alleviating it on one end, no matter which, as long as the burden is lessened??

Niet.

Having explained and explained the government still said no. Double taxation, that’s how we like it.

No reduction in import duties, no consideration regarding the levy of BBO/AZV.

So, most luxury retailers ‘got more efficient.’ Meaning they let go of people, and now operate less hours, 8 instead of 12, for example!

Some said adios. If you look at our Mecca of Luxury Goods Shopping, the Renaissance Mall you will see for the first time in decades, empty “For Rent” spaces in the prime corridor.

From an historic perspective, my source at ALGRA told me that in previous meetings with the former MinFin, Nilo Swaen, years back, he listened to the luxury goods retailers’ pleas, and reduced the import duty, a few months after the meeting.

But not this time.

Incidentally, I checked the definition of luxury goods and found they are few strong global brand names, for which the demand increases faster than our income increase. Meaning, luxury goods increase in price regardless of how often we get salary increases, because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to have a Rolex watch? We all do.

A few years ago, pushed by the Renaissance Shopping Mall developers, Aruba saw an amazing influx of international luxury goods retailers.  It was part of an overall strategy implemented to help upgrade the island’s tourist profile. The efforts of Eduardo de Veer, and many others resulted in a stellar line up of 5th Avenue stores.

But many of them feel that shopping is never ‘pushed’ in marketing circles, and that no one does anything to promote and improve that segment of the visitors’ experience, which is the second reason, cited by visitors in answer to the question, why they picked Aruba. Most of them mention Beaches & Shopping, as their top two motives.

Shopping used to be promoted here, by the hotels, not any shopping, but DUTY FREE shopping. Those were the days. Look at this old ad from the Aruba Caribbean Hotel, they promote shopping ahead of casino, and beaches!

Chamber’s lecture: The World of Innovation

I attended the Bureau of Innovation’s interactive lecture titled “The World of Innovation,” at the Chamber of Commerce auditorium this week, and listened to Marlon Kock, an IT Specialist who shared the most recent and relevant worldwide innovations, speculating how they could affect business in Aruba.

He talked about the opportunities and challenges these new disruptive strategies bring.

He started nice and slow with robots that will take over many of our jobs, and talked about 3D printing, as applied to the housing and car industries. Yes, printing a house, or a car. The program isn’t easy to write, but it’s doable, with a huge concrete printer layering walls, back and forth, we can build the future’s homes.

He said we could soon make all our old appliances smart, with the help of a small gadget, plugged into a socket, governing the old fashioned washer and dryer, air-conditioning and coffee-maker via WIFI.

But he devoted much time to Bit Coin, an application designed to simplify money and to shrink the banks’ role in commerce. Apparently with the help of digital money systems and new clever applications, the banking industry, a commission sucking dinosaur, will go by the sideways. And while banks resist innovations, they will have no choice but get out of the way when Bit Coin, Block Chain and many other financial alternatives take over the world.

Of course, leaving out the central bank, the government and the tax man out, for now.

Marlon’s advice to us as entrepreneurs was: Think of ways to put yourself out of business. Uber and AirBnB should have never existed, the founders did not come from transportation or hospitality but they came up with a solution to a problem they encountered, and changed the way the world behaves.

IF YOU DON’T THINK OF WAY TO TAKE YOUR SELF OUT OF BUSINESS, HE WARNED, OTHERS WILL DO IT FOR YOU.

He cited the case of Samsung, the South Korean multinational conglomerate, which maintain a state of perpetual crisis to keep the electronics and appliances company on edge, sharp and competitive, fostering a unique paranoid culture and that’s the way the boss like it!

So, instead of just trying to survive in business, hang on with all your might, try to take half a day off each week to think about innovations, which are not new inventions. Innovations teak and refit existing products, and procedures. So take a half day off each week to think about business improvements,  read complaint letters for inspiration, because that is where the game-changers lie.

Don’t get comfortable, get nervous, use your imagination to conjure up threats and challenges, then find ways to overcome both.

The Bureau of Innovation is affiliated to The Ministry of General Affairs, Innovation, Sustainable Development and Science. It develops supports and strategically advises on the areas of technological, social and economical innovation for the benefit of a sustainable society. Bianca Peters is the director of the bureau.

(As a footnote: I don’t think we have to take half a day off to come up with ways to take ourselves out of business, the government is already doing that!)

El Carajo, a fun place in Miami

On a recent trip to Miami, with my friend and tour guide Jacqueline Collot, we returned to the BP gas station, doubling up as a restaurant and wine store. Once we got there, it looked like a regular station, gas pumps and all, but the sign gave it away: Food Store & Deli. Inside, in the back, past the convenience store cashiers, surprise, a typical, adorable, Spanish Tasca or tapas bar, El Carajo, with exposed brick interiors, low ceiling beams, wine racks, wine carts and wine boxes everywhere, rustic wooden furniture, a long community table, and a rolled up paper menu, like a scroll, which we unrolled to order.

We shared the fabulous bacon wrapped stuffed dates, the seasoned potato croquettas, a delicious Manchego cheese, Spanish Chorizo and Serrano Ham, chased by Grilled Skirt Steaks, and asparagus served with some amazing chimichurri, and best of all we bought our own fancy bottles of wine, a St. Julien and a Chateauneuf Du Pape, right there in the wine store, and the waiter uncorked, decanted, then served the wine to us with our meal. So that’s the gimmick, you buy a bottle of expensive wine at a reasonable price in the wine store, and enjoy it with your dinner. It’s quite a novelty. The food’s good, the wine and champagne selection great, the place charming. We had to wait twenty minutes for a table, so make reservations at El Carajo, off Dixie Highway. Then because we came last minute they asked us to vacate by 9:30pm, they had another reservation, which was no problem, after having so much food all I wanted to do was go to bed!

We arrived at the restaurant with an Uber car, we called for a pick up, sipped wine with dinner, did not worry about drinking and driving, then that same driver delivered us home safely. A twenty minute drive, with four people, for $15!

Uber, will it ever penetrate the Iron Shield of taxi protection in Aruba?