Teens in tight jeans and skimpy tops slurp free ladies’-night drinks in foot-long orange plastic glasses and gyrate on the dance floor of Carlos ‘n Charlie’s to a U.S. rap hit whose chorus taunts “it’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” USA Today, September 29th, 2005
And so begins a travel article on Aruba in USA Today. The juxtaposition of the horror we have covered with Natalee Holloway’s disappearance and the need for a vibrant tourism trade has been a constant source of friction on this site.
The Aruban’s rightfully point out that statistically their island is a safer place than most, that they present a safe and fun alternative for a family vacation. They also state that one instance does not a reputation make.
Many others argue the converse side, that Aruba was not responsive to the disappearance of Natalee. That the government and the Dutch legal system systematically covered up the crime and did not work hard for justice. That going to Aruba is a nice idea, but if something goes wrong on your trip, do not count on the legal system to protect you.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, there is truth to both sides. Reading Scared Monkeys is a frustrating experience for the Aruban people. They know that a bad thing happened on the island. They personally want it solved, but they also do not want their livelihood and reputation as a people ruined. I do not blame them. The classic adage, a reputation can take years to build and a moment to destroy, is very true.
The situation is made worse when most of the horror of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance was done by non Arubans. Non locals committing acts that is tearing at the social fabric of the island. This is the huge source of discomfort for the Aruban people. So no matter that the Aruban’s cry that they are a loving people and had nothing to do with this, they are still in the line of fire.
To preserve the reputation as a tourism mecca, Aruba has embarked on a new advertising campaign.
Because of incessant media coverage of Holloway’s disappearance, “now everybody knows Aruba” — and not necessarily in a good way, says Myrna Jansen, managing director of the Aruba Tourism Authority. “Our main priority now is, ‘Let’s get this (Holloway case) solved and resolved.’ It’s not nice for anyone involved.”
There wasn’t a wave of summer cancellations after Holloway’s disappearance, say Jansen and Caribbean-vacation vendors such as Connecticut-based TourScan. In fact, the number of June visitors from the USA increased 10% this year, and July and August hotel occupancy was up over last year, too.
Island tourism officials have resumed ad campaigns suspended during the time the Holloway case was making daily headlines. Jansen hopes bad publicity won’t keep some from choosing the island for fall and winter getaways. (Alabama’s House of Representatives even passed a resolution urging Alabamans to stay away.) But she says fall bookings are running ahead of last year’s.
Will it work, we do not know. However, for many on both sides of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, the bitterness of what has happened will linger on. Odds are if the status quo is maintained, tourism will be hurt. If the numbers are the same, the rates may be lower. If the rates remain the same, the numbers may be lower. In the end, tourism dollars will decrease.
If the call for a boycott occurs, then we are looking at a even tougher hit to tourism.
One way or the other, we all hope that there is a honest and forthright resolution to the matter, both Aruban’s and Americans. Otherwise, this will be a sore that will linger on for a long time to come.