Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, Nov 6th, 2016

The Deal Is Off, thanks to Union Interference

I have written about the bad karma of Aura Casino three times this year, all articles listed on the bottom of this page, they are sad tales of bad behavior and illegal business practices.

The latest chapter:

For a while there, it seemed that a new operator, Island Gaming, would be taking the Aura casino at the Occidental Grand, now under its current flag, Barcelo Aruba, over.

Aura Casino closed last December leaving 44 employees, unemployed. The previous operator simply disappeared, and as it turned out, he did not even have a bank account!

Anyway, so the previous bum operator is nowhere to be found, people are out of work. HELP.

Then a new potential operator steps in. That’s Island Gaming.

They might be interested in reopening the business, and taking some of the workers back on.

Why just some?

Because meanwhile Barcelo Resort decided to reduce the casino space and make better use of the area, as part of the lobby. Smaller space, less games, less workers.

Sounds logical.

Not to the local labor union.

Instead of tracking down the previous operator and taking him to court, which hasn’t been done to date, they went after the new guys.

No, they did not bother to pursue the previous operator and sue him for lost wages.

They decided they stand a better chance of getting money if they pursue the new guys, force them to take on all workers AND shell out 10 months of back-pay.

Are you kidding?!

So this thing dragged on and on, with the union flexing muscles and posturing, and the new, enthusiastic guys, getting less and less enthusiastic.

Guess what. Last Friday, they folded. They changed their mind. Retracted the offer. No thanks. They would not be interested in opening the casino under threats of law suits, with the financial burden of 10 month back-wages, 44 employees.

The labor union really played its cards terrible.


Pepia Est Goes Green

We got a friendly newsletter from Pepia Est, a popular wholesaler with warehouses in Eagle. The company just doubled its warehouse space. “We are excited to announce,” the newsletter says,” that we are officially the first green wholesaler on Aruba, and we hope to lead the way to a greener more environmentally conscious future. Join us in celebrating October Green Month, by making ‘green’ daily changes and ensure a more sustainable future for our Happy Island.” The newspaper goes on to say: “Not only do we sell the best organic products; we are also doing our best in keeping our environmental footprint low in other areas. We have recently installed solar panels to our rooftops as well as implemented a paperless invoice system and we changed all our lights to LED.  Now it’s your turn.”

Pepia Est reports that they conduct trainings for bar staff in the field of Organic Cocktails and will be happy to teach the art of green cocktails to any bartender who signs up. The company also carries a number organic wine labels, DeLoach Winery, Russian River Valley, California, Domaine Carneros, Napa Valley, California, and Del Maguey Mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Partners Michael v/d Berg and Herdy ten Lohuis, smart and hard working business people, are often seen in their company’s yard unloading just-arrived containers, as sweaty as the rest of their crew. They are also known for their generous Friday Happy Hours, often starting as early as mid-afternoon, where they invite industry partners to taste their latest arrivals, wines and spirits, long into the evening. I think I should stop by, this week.

A short interview with Michael v/d Berg:

How long have you been open? We first opened Pepia Est in 2003

How many brands do you carry? We carry around a 1,000 different products

What are the big ones, the BIG names?! Our big names are Absolut, Tito’s Vodka, Chivas Regal, Miller Beer, Malibu Rum, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and in wines Carlo Rossi, Yellow Tail Wines and Meiomi.

Check out the complete portfolio:

How do you acquire a BIG name? Normally brands come to us, in need of a refresh in their performance, seeking more market-share….most of the suppliers talk to each other and discuss alternatives, we tend to pop up in those conversations in a positive way, and then the ball starts rolling, don’t forget they come and visit the island, talk to our clients, and they always want to know who is doing what, and how well they are doing it.

What is the secret of your success? Always put customers first; never sell them what you want, but rather sell them what they need/want; add value not by raising prices, but add service and advice; come up with way they could perform better while using our products! Challenge existing MOs by being innovative. Most importantly hire smart people, embrace change, never give up, and above all be honest. In regard to Pepia Est’s suppliers, we are transparent, quick to react, and we maintain straight forward communications, always adhering to brand values and standards

What is the secret of a good partnership?? Herdy and I, while we are very different as people, we have one shared goal, the wellbeing of Pepia Est and its clients; we are a solid partnership in all aspects, and are blessed by all 5 marketing Ps:

People- we have great employees

Place – we own a superb, centrally located warehouse and offices

Promotion – we mix good, old-school marketing with edgy innovations

Price – our products carry a fair price tag, conforming to market conditions

Product – we have strong, hard core key products, mixed in with cool trendy ones, premium AND super premium products, with something for all market segments


What goes up, must come down

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has just published its October report which shows the most recent stopover arrival and cruise visitor numbers for many destinations in the Caribbean.

This certainly deserves a blurb, as Aruba is the only island down in the region, and as we see despite millions spent on marketing, we just show 1.5% increase from the USA.

I asked around how that is possible, and understood the following: What goes up, must come down!

Basically MinTour and ATA are victims of their own spin the last couple of years. Remember when we had these ridiculous increases in arrivals two/three years ago like 15% up, driven by desperate Venezuelans looking to purchase diapers and toilet paper?

Those were indeed arrivals, but unrelated to tourism, staying in homes, sleeping in backyards and patios. They came in droves. I hated the line for beer at the back of the Ling & Sons store.

At the time, both ATA and the MinTour, refused  to take them out of the statistics mix, despite requests from AHATA and the private sector, instead they took credit for the huge increases in tourism due to, their amazing marketing efforts!

Now that these Venezuelans have basically vanished, our statistics show a decrease, and guess what ATA wants to do? Exclude the drop in Venezuelan arrivals from the analysis, to reflect a more realistic picture.

The island should have done it from the start, excluded the Venezuelan swipers, when they were coming.

As for arrivals from the USA, it is truthfully hard to grow arrivals from that market unless the island opens new and/or additional gateways for airlines, which has not happened in years.

But ATA keeps pumping millions into the market, and driving the acquisition cost, per new visitor, up significantly. I suppose you could argue… as long as the money is there, who cares what it costs to bring a first-time visitor to the island, as long as they keep coming, we’re happy.

Cruise arrivals? According to my sources, this is no true growth. This 14% increase is getting cruise arrivals and the number of cruise calls back to Aruba’s normal levels. In 2015 Aruba saw a substantial drop in cruise traffic. In 2016, we’re just getting back to normal.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has just published its October report which shows the most recent stopover arrival and cruise visitor numbers for many destinations in the Caribbean.

Total Stopover Visitors
20162015% changePeriod
Antigua           200,185           183,6569.0%Jan-Sep
Aruba           849,799           887,138-4.2%Jan-Sep
Bahamas           781,770           760,9782.7%Jan-Jun
Barbados           421,914           400,2985.4%Jan-Aug
Belize           293,622           252,25316.4%Jan-Sep
British Virgin Islands           280,876           270,3333.9%Jan-Jul
Cayman Islands           281,770           280,3680.5%Jan-Aug
Cuba        2,715,478        2,430,23811.7%Jan-Aug
Curacao           299,862           297,4150.8%Jan-Aug
Dominican Republic        4,165,198        3,892,7087.0%Jan-Aug
Jamaica        1,532,272        1,496,3592.4%Jan-Aug
Puerto Rico        1,131,795        1,123,9280.7%Jan-Aug
Saint Lucia           246,511           245,7740.3%Jan-Aug
Turks & Caicos Islands           302,295           251,07620.4%Jan-Jul
US Virgin Islands           612,162           593,7563.1%Jan-Sep
Source CTO



Total US Stopover Visitors
20162015% changePeriod
Antigua             84,500             71,18818.7%Jan-Sep
Aruba           478,368           471,3291.5%Jan-Sep
Bahamas           301,534           282,6006.7%Jan-Mar
Barbados            83,454             73,78813.1%Jan-Jun
Belize           197,868           158,42124.9%Jan-Sep
British Virgin IslandsNA NANANA
Cayman Islands           223,526           216,3853.3%Jan-Aug
Cuba           171,445           100,30570.9%Jan-Aug
Curacao             36,587             36,4410.4%Jan-Jul
Dominican Republic        1,563,924        1,478,1895.8%Jan-Aug
Jamaica        1,007,941           960,8594.9%Jan-Aug
Puerto Rico           862,227           880,722-2.1%Jan-Jun
Saint Lucia           113,607           110,6202.7%Jan-Aug
Turks & Caicos Islands           248,596           208,20419.4%Jan-Jul
US Virgin IslandsNA NANANA
Source CTO


Total Cruise Visitors
20162015% changePeriod
Antigua           414,574           440,094-5.8%Jan-Sep
Aruba           439,226           384,60614.2%Jan-Sep
Bahamas        2,451,944        2,410,0601.7%Jan-Aug
Barbados           340,043           327,6263.8%Jan-Jun
Belize           701,618           692,2791.3%Jan-Sep
British Virgin Islands           444,200           300,75047.7%Jan-Jul
Cayman Islands        1,189,963        1,124,1645.9%Jan-Aug
Cozumel        2,601,961        2,486,0574.7%Jan-Sep
Curacao           311,117           328,132-5.2%Jan-Aug
Dominican Republic           525,699           321,93463.3%Jan-Aug
Jamaica        1,137,575        1,027,54510.7%Jan-Aug
Puerto Rico           819,226           923,393-11.3%Jan-Jul
Saint Lucia           365,446           446,390-18.1%Jan-Aug
St. Maarten        1,029,027        1,249,699-17.7%Jan-Jul
Turks & Caicos Islands           510,035           544,782-6.4%Jan-Jul
US Virgin Islands        1,311,101        1,319,080-0.6%Jan-Sep
sub total     14,592,755     14,326,5911.9%
Source CTO

Life in the Dump

A week ago Friday I visited the neighbors living downwind from Parkitenbos, on Bucutiweg. It is hard to write about the subject and I have been procrastinating for over a week. What can you say, that hasn’t said before? The area is a disaster and the situation there constitutes a crime against humanity.

That Friday, a white cloud hung in the sky over the mangroves and the channel, and it hit me as soon as I got out of the car, my eyes smarted and my throat contracted, burning.

The air, says a neighbor, has become more toxic over time. We have been living here all our lives, so bad smells seem normal to us, but in recent year it went from grey, foul smelling smoke, to a white chocking blanket, and the kids all suffer from asthma, unable to breathe. It is worst nights, when we’re lying in our beds suffocating!

There is no quiet enjoyment on Bucutiweg. Houses are closed hermetically, aircos are on. No laundry hanging in the breeze, no children playing in the street. The air is thick and rancid, and all of a sudden I was thirsty, so thirsty, like the juices had been sucked out of me, by some chemical sponge. The hostess offered water.

We have done everything, she said. Gone to the Police, to the Health Department, to the Ministers, Parliamentarians, we call the MinPres’ office every week, we leave messages, no one cares, no one answers; they are tired of us.

They have been dumping garbage here for 80 years, and the problem is too big to fix, fast. Someone actually has to spent time and tons of money to try to resolve the island’s garbage challenge. And not a single government entity seems to be concerned.

They are building a colossal bridge that will cut the commute from San Nicholas to Oranjestad by 20 seconds; They are celebrating the Health Department’s anniversary, by throwing lovely parties, they load a school’s roof with solar panels, but not a word about the dump.

They have a joker-coordinator in charge of the dump at Infrastructure. He says the dump will be closed end of the year. He lies. How can that happen? Where will the garbage go?

The gasification plant stinks. While the idea is contemporary and exciting the plant is in its experimental stage. How long will the testing take, before we see results?

The Police never comes anymore, when called. Live fires are raging, and the Policemen shrug it off, because Serlimar likes to start these fires on weekends, when government officers are closed, and there is no one to talk to.

The impotent Parkitenbos foundation collected signatures; they went nowhere, achieved nothing.

Many of their neighbors are government employees who are afraid to complain and lose their jobs in the process. They are too scared to protest while dealing with major health issues; they don’t want to be discriminated against and ridiculed.


I am sad and mad. I loved the stories about carefree kids going swimming in the lagoon, and playing hide and seek behind the dump’s wall. That was 40 years ago. It is a toxic waste land now.

The lies from the Serlimar website

Parkietenbos Landfill & Containerpark Facility has been Aruba’s official public refuse dumping-site since the 1960s and has undergone several important structural changes during the recent years. Nowadays, this facility is organized in two main deposit sections, the Containerpark and the Landfill. Subsequently, these two main sections are subdivided according to specially designated waste materials sections for recycling and environmental purposes. Once you pass the main gate entry of the facility, you will find directions indicating the landfill entrance and the containerpark entrance.

Householders should dispose of their waste at the containerpark and public, private and nonprofit organizations should dispose of their waste at the landfill sections.

For safety, management and environmental reasons, it is mandatory that all users dispose of their waste in the correct locations and as directed by the facility operators. It is required to respect the Rules of Parkietenbos Containerpark and Landfill Facility at all times.


The MinTour’s resignation and his legacy

Yesterday in a press conference, in the home of his parents with them sitting by his side, the MinTour finally announced his resignation. He’s been threatening since the beginning of the year, and now finally he’s had it up to here.

With what?

He says: Lack of cooperation with other ministers who regularly boycott his projects.

We say:  With tourism under-performing, he couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen.

We also fault the MinPres for lack of leadership and for his failure to keep his cabinet ministers together. As it stands right now, they all operate as separate galaxies, while the Big Wizard admires his own reflection in the mirror.

So, why is the kitchen so hot?

The following is a flowery ATA press release from March 3rd 2016, in which the Aruba Tourism Authority enthusiastically reports 2015 record-breaking tourism results, saying, and I quote: “Following a record-setting year of 1.07 million stay-over visitors in 2014, The Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) reported total arrivals in 2015 increased by an additional 14.3 percent, totaling 1.22 annual stay-over visitors.”

The propaganda press release goes on and on describing 2015 as a monumental year, praising innovation, creativity, strategic and savvy digital marketing, dozens of awards, increase in tourists spending, bla-bla, presenting an expertly spun tale, far removed from the actual story.

That hyped up statement simply doesn’t stand up to reality.

The so-called record breaking tourism performance was a fluke, a historic anecdote which had nothing to do with tourism, as more than 40,000 poor Venezuelans showed up here, to buy toilet paper and diapers, each month, for almost two years.

When all of those arrivals were added to our tourism statistics, the island indeed looked overachieving, but when you take the Venezuelans out of the equation, you find out that Aruba has been under-performing in the region:

Look at this chart; the numbers for Aruba are stopover arrivals excluding Venezuela. The numbers for the Caribbean are from the World Tourism Organization. You can see that between 2010 and 2015 without Venezuela, we averaged a 3.6% annual growth rate. The average growth rate for the Caribbean was 4.2% per annum. This means we lost market share. Not great considering an ATA marketing budget that doubled.

Stopover ArrivalsAruba’s
Aruba*% pa growthCaribbean**% pa growthShare
2010      733,942         19,500,0003.76%
2011      750,5962.3%         20,100,0003.1%3.73%
2012      760,7331.4%         20,600,0002.5%3.69%
2013      791,2364.0%         21,100,0002.4%3.75%
2014      820,4893.7%         22,300,0005.7%3.68%
2015      874,0176.5%         23,900,0007.2%3.66%
average p.a. growth rate3.6%4.2%
* Without Venezuelan arrivals
** Source: World Tourism Organization


Statistics don’t lie. We were doing OK, not great. But the MinTour called it fantastic!

So why did he finally resign? Of course, no cooperation from his fellow ministers. Didn’t Power FM, the radio station owned and operated by the Mintour’s Consigliere been promoting a March for Security, clearly needling and pestering the Minister of Justice. Why should he then cooperate?

We were recently very surprised at the animosity between MinEnergy and MinTour, over a piece of public art. They were both fighting over the domination of San Nicholas.

Was the MinTour perhaps upset the Juan David Irausquin is potentially back from exile? Or perhaps the going got tough, and with dwindling tourism numbers, it was hard to adjust to the new reality from his perch on the glorified pedestal?

A pedestal by definition is small and restrictive. And the MinTour got use to the accolades showered on him by the Aruba Tourism Authority. Praise is after all addictive.

In defense of the MinTour we have to admit that he is a mover and shaker, he can get things done, and we wish we could harness his energy in a more collaborative way. But as mentioned many times before, he is a one man show, and finds it hard to work in a team. His partners in the industry, the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, gave up on the relationship, or the lack of, just recently.

We know it was hard for him to let go. The MinTour is a dedicated AVP party member, green at heart, he’s worked with that party’s greatest, and has devoted more than 20 years to politics out of which he served seven as government minister.

There is no love lost between him and MEP, they quagmire him in court in the past, and we think he won’t go there.

He had 4008 voters in the 2013 election and he most probably will ask for their support when Blue becomes the new green, his new political party.

Does he have any money to campaign? We think he does. His Consigliere owns the exploitation rights to the Aruba logo and there are other rumored businesses he is involved in.  So we think he is going to be OK, because as a resigned Minister, he’s out of government and out of a job, and he has a family to feed.

Bottom line: What has the island and the industry lost? If you look at tourism production (as per the above graph) during his tenure, nothing much. The actual numbers never matched the hype and  Aruba under-performed in comparison to the rest of the region 3.6% growth VS 4.2%, yet we doubled our spending compared to the rest of the region.

Under his leadership, the ATA bank financed a flood of music festivals, plastic blue horse, parking meters, which totally destroyed merchants, in businesses which were already struggling, and other product related expenses. The money could have been used to improve the Parkietenbos Dump and garbage situation on the island.


The Plot Thickens

Last night we were invited to a Customer Appreciation event at the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino. We were fortunate to be on the receiving end of their global strategy, to make better connections. The gathering fed our minds and our bellies equally well, as the first part of the evening included a speaker, dissecting the subject of happiness and the second part featured culinary fireworks, with incredible food over cocktails, in two different, trendy and cool décors.

Happiness? It’s up to us. And it takes work and focus, it’s not a destination, it’s a journey! Catherine Sanderson was a speed-talker, she has a mind-blowing resume, she knows what she’s talking about, and she delivered a great pep talk, educational and entertaining.

Then over cocktails, what did we talk about? You guessed, the famous resignation. Most people think it’s the best thing that happened to Aruba, because now with the former MinTour on his own, setting up a new party, he will be able to partner with Marisol for example, and become the alternative, forcing a coalition, in the next elections. What this island needs is a change of government, and with a coalition, for as long as they get along, our resources will be better used. So thank you, Otmar Oduber, for shaking things up in that way. Blue is the new green.

Apparently, in view of some dirty looks I received, the former minister has many fans, and one of them reprimanded me for spanking him too hard: He’s a leader, he’s knowledgeable, and charismatic, and best of all he is not oily, smarmy, he doesn’t play the boy-girl card with empty compliments, telling us how beautiful we are, bla bla. I stand corrected. Indeed.

Back to the gossip at hand: Member of Parliament, Marisol Tromp, who received 1643 votes in 2013, is now sitting pretty as several political suitors have asked for her hand. Eventually, she will make a decision to join forces, if she picks Blue, it will be for the good of the country. And I am forever grateful to her for voting against the refinery!

Another name dropped is Juan David Yrausquin. Some of my friends are still mad at him for ditching politics mid race, and wasting their vote — he got 1314, in the 2013 elections. So he went on to study Public Finance in the USA and is now ready to return to the arena. The MinPres indicated that the doors are open, and that he might be a candidate for the minister’s office in the Netherlands.

But my clever friends reassure me he won’t do it. He will not go to the Netherlands for just one year, until the next elections. The MinPres just dangled the offer to prevent that young, handsome politician from partnering with another political entity.

Member of Parliament Andin Bikker, 3047 votes in 2013, must be crying in his tea, regretting the fact he did not move faster, more forcefully, to team up with Juan David Yrausquin or Marisol Tromp. Though a good intellect, there is something flawed about his approach of people. Example: He always tell me “How good I look…for my age, like old wine,” which immediately kills all conversations. Now, what kind of kill-joy compliment is that?

I heard the name Richard Arends dropped in connection to the MinTour’s position, and his possible appointment as professional minister for one year. His current job: Chief of Staff to the Minister of Economic Affairs, Communication, Energy & Environment, Senior Advisor to the Prime-Minister, that’s a mouthful. He is dynamic, he’s on the ball, he works hard, and contributed greatly to the insane refinery deal, plus he is my neighbor. He wasn’t very kind to me, as he was first thinking about moving into my neighborhood, but things have settled down since.

I did not hear the name of the MinEdu dropped in connection with the open MinTour position. She would have been suitable, but it is the third time, she is not asked. I checked. I am dedicated to Education, which I am passionate about, she said.

Basically the practical solution to the void, says one of my advisers, would be to give Tourism to the MinFin, Culture to the MinEdu, she knows all about it, and Transport to the MinJust, and tada, we’re well taken care of for the upcoming year, until the elections.

Minister plenipotentiary? Desiree Croes. She can go back to the Netherlands for a year, she knows all about it. But who will replace her in parliament??!!


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November 06, 2016
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