Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, March 19th, 2017

Aruparking, Still Manages to Upset

This week three of my friends got booted. It’s either they’re idiots, or AruParking still doesn’t have its act together. I suspect by now, 15 months into the hoopla, the grey-confusing areas have been left this way on purpose, as an income-generating strategy.

The first adorable bobo went to the International Women’s Day Conference on Wednesday, fed the meter  a few florins, then went back midday to replenish the meter. She got booted shortly before 3pm, and when she discovered her car immobilized after 6pm – yes, you guessed, happy hour – she called the office number, 520 2323, for instructions. They did not pick up the phone. When she called me I reassured her that the office IS open until  7pm, and that she CAN bail out her car.

Really, on International Women’s Day?

Downtown was bursting at the seams with cars, all parking lots were full. Aruparking must have made a bundle.

And naturally, the attitude of the clerks at the Aruparking office is priceless. They shrug and avert their eyes, refusing to make eye-contact. Poor things, they should be trained to show empathy, in spite of the pressure. People are just mad, nothing personal. Isn’t it their job to handle the situation?!

The second loveable bobo went shopping downtown, and parked in a slot with no number

The third dear bobo, not just one but two, a pair, they parked in a slot with no number.

They found out the hard way that they are not supposed to park between two yellow lines and to their defense they asked: “So why isn’t the area Xed off. Why doesn’t it simply say RESERVED, in yellow paint, on the asphalt?”

Duh.

I don’t know.

I didn’t even know about the all-time verboten parking between yellow stripes!

At this junction we are asking you to improve the markings, please state it clearly: NO PARKING

RONA COSTER CELEBRATES 25 YEARS AS COLUMNIST WITH UNIQUE BOOK

On Wednesday March 15 a festive event will mark the book launch of Island Life, Aruba’s Best-Kept Diary, a selection of columns written by Rona Coster between 1992 and 2004.  The first book will be handed to Padu Lampe, father of Aruba’s culture in the presence of about 100 special invitees at Arubiana, the dependence of the national library. The book, a very attractive 200-page hard cover with the look and feel of a diary, also marks the festive milestone of Rona Coster’s 25th anniversary as a columnist on the island.

“Nobody kept a diary of the island for a quarter of a century as consistently as Rona Coster”, said Karin Swiers, the book’s editor and publisher. “What started as a weekly column on island life grew to become a unique and precious archive, documenting the islands’ peek development years. To preserve this valuable information about a changing island life over the past decades, and to recognize the movers and shakers that helped build and strengthen Aruba’s economy, I wanted to publish this book. For those who were part of history to remember those days and for the next generations and Aruba’s visitors to learn about our islands valuable traditions, movements and contributors.”

The column appeared for the first time under the title Island Life in 1992 in The News, a local English-language newspaper. The Island Life columns were very factual and had a very strong educational undertone. Marking its 25th anniversary the column has become part of Aruba’s history and collective memory. Rona Coster was rewarded a Journalism CTC Award from the Caribbean Tourism Organization in 2004 for her contributions and respectable achievements in journalism.

The book Island Life, Aruba’s Best-Kept Diary, is for sale at local bookstores of De Wit & Van Dorp, including their two stores at the airport, at Plaza Book Shop and at Bruna. In the Palm Beach area the book is for sale at various resorts and gift stores: T.H. Palm & Company at Playa Linda, The Bazaar at the Aruba Marriott Resort, The MarketPlace at Marriott’s Surf Club, Shoco Market at Hyatt Regency, Coconuts seaside at Barcelo Resort, Tradewinds at Costa Linda Beach Resort, at RIU Antillas, Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino and Marriott’s Ocean Club, Pure Indulgence Spa at Divi Phoenix, Indulgence by the Sea Spa at Divi Mega Resorts, and at Taste of Aruba in South Beach Center.

About the author: Rona Coster started her career in Aruba as a marketing executive and produced a weekly column from 1992 – 2015, which then became a daily online column. She is managing director of Marketing Plus, co-founder of Aruba’s lifestyle magazine Island Temptations and co-host of radio show 96.5% Pika on MagicFM. She is the creator of 8 AM Buzz / BatiBleki, a daily column on social media and available as an App on both iphone and Android platforms, App Name: Bati Bleki.

Aruba is having a good Q1

The AHATA January 2017 monthly report was published just recently, and while the total number of visitors decreased, I understood the news wasn’t bad, because we were getting more US visitors and from the right places NY, MS, NJ.

Just to give you a feel, I will quote, thank you Jim at AHATA:

  • The total number of stopovers visiting Aruba decreased by 14.2% in January 2017, from 104,072 in January 2016 to 89,269 in January 2017.
  • Traffic from the USA was up by 8.4%, from 51,096 stopovers in January 2016 to 55,383 stopovers in January 2017. Traffic was up by 2.6% from New York State, up by 16.3% from Massachusetts and up 2.5% from New Jersey.
  • Traffic from Venezuela was down by 68.2% in January 2017 from 27,925 stopovers in January 2016 to 8,869 in January 2017.

Then I talked to some of my maven friends and this is what I learned:

You can’t take the arrivals’ report literally. In fact for the past six years it’s been totally out of whack. Prior to 2015 when the Venezuelans were coming to Aruba by the planeloads to shop and swipe their credit cards for dollars — everything except tourism – our arrival figures were skewed upwards, giving a distorted view of how tourism had grown. Then when the government cracked down on these Venezuelan arrivals we saw huge swings in the opposite direction, arrivals down double digits, and night-stays in condos and homes down 30% to 40%. All these phenomena are connected.

The truth is that Aruba is having a good Q1 this year; though by reading the January stats you wouldn’t think so. The stats show a 14% decline, but we’re getting the right kind of tourists.

What helps is a strong MICE market – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events, through May and US arrivals are up primarily due to more airlift by JetBlue, out of Fort Lauderdale.

The published arrival figures need to revised going back at least six to seven years, extrapolating the real results by ignoring both the inflated growth driven by non-tourist Venezuelans AND the steep declines we’ve experienced in more recent months. Then one might get a more accurate view of how Aruba has performed.

Cuba? Cuba is not affecting us. That’s pent up demand which we would never get anyway.

I am late today coming off cloud nine!

I was a client of O’Stad Printing when Fernando Schouten suggested me to write a column in the newspaper his sister Sonia Schouten was editing, in the back part of the printing plant.

I went home. I wrote a column. I committed to write one very week and that was the beginning of my writing career. Sonia published it that same day, and sent me home to write some more.

It only proves that when the student is ready the teacher appears.

My writing at the time fulfilled a need, I felt no one was listening to me, that I had no voice, and writing was a way to remedy that. It worked.

My late husband Roger Coster was a great supporter, he called himself reader #1. The good people at the NEWS were great including Mauro the graphic designer and Erick the photographer.

And David, my son, was a fascinating inspiration, as I watched him grow up on the island.

Basically the island Life column in the NEWS was a love song to Aruba.

I was blindly in love with the island and the people I met, I found everything fascinating and being a story teller by nature I wanted to document every word, every cool scene.

I found joy in cracking the code of this island revealing its many treasures, understanding how things work here. And you know that shared joy is double joy.

So once a week I talked about something I experienced and enjoyed. And shared it in the NEWS.

I wrote the island life columns from 1992 to 2004, then I ran out of steam, and my column evolves into Bati Bleki.

As an immigrant to this island, I had a burning desire to integrate, and belong, and the column provided the perfect framework.

I think my mission has been accomplished. I integrated. I belong. I am an Arubiano original.

Then a few months ago on the way to the archive, Karin Swiers said let me take a look and the end result is the book.

I’m telling you, all you need in life is a bunch of good friends.

So Karin edited with great enthusiasm, Kiki laid it out beautifully, Debbie proof read with great attention to detail, Tina catered the launch party, and Jodi dressed me.

I hope the book give you joy, as much joy as I had writing it, and as much joy as Karin had editing it.

About Bushiri, part 1

I know how we ended up with an abandoned complex. Bushiri Hotel had the Aruba Hospitality Trade Training Center, AHTTC, attached to it on the area below the harbor. It was quite a successful hospitality school at the time, but it was government run.

Incidentally, some of the graduates include well-known people in our community Gino Croes of UA, Stanley Brown, Peter Schuit, Sigrid Hammelburg, Eddy Diaz, Silvio do Nacimiento, Ralph Romsom, Mark Nooren, Sylvia Wolter, even a former slightly disgraced Minister in St Maarten.

Bushiri Hotel closed for the same reasons all businesses close, it was badly managed and didn’t make money. Running a hotel and a hotel school under the same roof was complicated to say the least, especially as two separate entities.

At a certain moment a decision was made to relocate the school, and sell the building to a major hotel chain as an all-inclusive, releasing the government of this money-losing enterprise.

Among members of management I recall, the late Tony Green teaching psychology, Tirzo Kolfin in finance, Ellis Dania in hotel management. That coalition was doomed to failure, without insulting any of the three gentlemen involved, one now departed, the other in the business of god at Iglesia Congregacional Hesus Bo Speranza Nobo, the third I am not quite sure.

So AHTTC died, and Colegio EPI was born as a cluster of all educational institutions. The hotel school moved into a new campus in Seroe Blanco. The thought was that students could be practicing their newly acquired hospitality skills at the hotels, but in reality that is not happening.

I talked to a  few people about the recent articles published in the media about the eyesore. Apparently the MinPres announced the government’s intention to tear some of the structure down, and slowly, over time, develop a public facility with a dedicated soccer arena, a beach for the locals and other public amenities.

The emphasis is on public, says Raffy Kock of the Office for Infrastructure and Architecture, whatever comes there must have a public designation, he explains. The way he sees it, the beach will require some work, to make it bigger, and suitable for swimming, then locals may play soccer and beach tennis at the location, in a modular, multi-functional arena of 3,000 to 7,000 seats for concerts, and sport events. While the budget is not there, the thinking process has begun. Perhaps the place can be rehabilitated as a long term project, bit by bit, as funds are made available. Some of the materials salvaged from the deteriorated building can be recycled and re-purposed.

While the newspaper articles made it look like it is happening imminently, it is not. Nothing happening as yet.

I understand that the Bushiri area is in need of a public designation in view of the fact that APA, Aruba Ports Authority, has big construction plans next door. They are planning to fill the now-empty space with for sale and for rent product,  modeled after the Amsterdam harbor (?!) with Dutch advisers in place.

The above plans provoked some hilarity among my friends. First they shrugged and nodded their heads over the plan to clutter the APA waterfront, then they tsk-tsked because the locals do not like the beach at Bushiri, they never went there, as it is unsuitable for swimming.

Most of my sources agree that the Bushiri was built well, with European funding, it is a handsome complex; tearing it down is a waste of time and resource. Why not renovate and turn it into a Retired Community, where many of the island’s now mature baby-boomers  could live, having sold their large homes to Millennials with energy to spare on gardening and maintenance.

The AIB, Aruba Investment Bank, has just announced plans for the rehab of the J.F. Kennedy School. The Bushiri building can be rehabbed as well, and serve elderly residents for many years to come.

Incidentally, I have the B from the Bushiri’s sign in my garden now. It dropped off the roof when I was driving by. It now has a new life, painted blue, among the potted shrubs, looking good.

More to come

I spent 24 hours on a Bushiri Alumni Chat Group

There were a bunch of articles published in the local media recently about the eyesore Bushiri location being converted into a public area.

Many of my friends cried foul. In a perfect world, it should go back to its original designation as a hotel school , of another suggestion was to turn it into a retirement home, for senior Arubans, with a pool and recreational facilities, close to doctors and the hospital. The AIB, Aruba Investment Bank, could undertake it as a viable development.

Perhaps one of my favorite restaurants, TABASCO, could be reincarnated at that same location, when the facility reopens. The plug was pulled on that gem when the facility was abandoned.

Then I decided to solicit the opinions of the Bushiri graduates. Apparently they have a chat group, they are very fond of each other, and they keep in touch, with regular class reunions scheduled every five years, in various places around the Caribbean, one upcoming on  May 24, 2018.

GML: Hi Rona. Reason for closing not familiar to me. As first year student the education and experience was the best. We were well prepared to move on to a university. Of course we all had our own choices. The hotel and school combination was perfect. Learning and training at the same time. I estimate that maybe 80% of the Bushiri students went into hospitality/tourism. They could have modernized and expended the building instead of moving the school. That is my thought. Funny stories; we were like brothers and sisters although we came from different countries like Surname, England, Holland, Spain, Colombia, India, Curacao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, Statia, Germany, and Aruba.

GC: Hi Rona. So much to write about. The closing was more a political decision back then. The business model (school and hotel combination) was/is one that worked very well back then and was a jewel for the region (regardless if it was on Aruba, Curacao or St Maarten, for example). It was just a perfect place to study hospitality and tourism management. We had direct link with FIU and CIA back then where the students could have easily transferred to those institutions. In the early stages of the hotel school students were participating not only in the laboratories (practical side of the program) but were also assisting the professional staff with large banquets, restaurant operations etc. Managers and instructors had years of experience under their belt. Anyway, we can go on and on and on. To keep it politically correct with my comments, I believe that it is just very “sad” how such a jewel was thrown down the drain. Shame, shame, SHAME, and it hurts, if I am honest with you. Look at the current success model of the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management where the Dean had fought and insisted with UCF management to build their hotel school in the center of the tourist Mecca of Orlando. A hotel school right next to International Drive, Theme Parks, and Convention Center. It became one of the largest hospitality programs in the US. My perception is that Bushiri wasn’t closed because of poor financial management. Even though the rumors were there. It was closed because from an economist’s point of view, it was more of a “market failure” (an economic term) for the government. So cluster all community educational institutions (AHTTC, MTS, MAO ETC) to one location at Seroe Blanco (now Colegio EPI) and sell the property to a hotel chain. Again my thoughts, and I don’t have all the info to back that up. Pero donde hay humo hay fuego, and I don’t mind saying this publicly, it was the worst decision everrrr made by our government. An economic, SOCIAL and environment disaster compared to Fukishima. Sorry Rona. I am extremely emotional on this subject that I even find my opinion biased sometimes. But I guarantee that a lot share this opinion. It is NOT important who opened it or closed it, it, it just reflects very very poorly on us as Arubians that such a decision was made. It was one of the best business models in the region, competing hand in hand with Puerto Rico at that time. If you know of any angel investor that is willing to fund the same model, I will vouch for that, and commit to make it happen again

Anonymous: Hi Rona. Hotel and school worked perfectly. You got to practice and get experience on top of the theory instead of waiting till you graduated. The teaching was in English which made the FIU ( Florida International University) transfer smoother as we switched from Dutch to English. FIU was also  an excellent extension and had a summer school. I worked 25 years in hotel industry and it is wonderful

Fl: Hi Rona, for me it was the foundation of making the decision to stay in Aruba and  working in the hotel industry. Some of us chose other careers.

GC: And of course we have many, many great memories. Instructors were like drill sergeants. Fernando Kock, Chef B. Kelly, Tim Werleman, Hendrick Britten on maintenance, my goodness. If your shoes were dirty, you couldn’t enter class and sometimes not even the property. Fun, fun memories on how each one of them addressed discipline with their own style. Sonia Irausquin, what a tough cookie with a heart of gold, Bernardo Croes, the late Ricardo Kock, Ella Jacobs, on accountancy, Sonia Kappel handled food production, Mario and Juliet, taught English. Ellis Dania was a good leader but he left mid flurry of allegations.

RR: I signed up in ’85 for a program which had mixology scheduled as the first class if each day. Needless to say I don’t remember much of the curriculum….but I’m sure it was great. What did stood out to me, as a foreign student, was how deeply Hospitality was/is embedded in the Aruban culture…so much so that it inspired me to “bottle” this and export it to the City of Doral. My experiences in these short two years were wonderful & marvelous and I hope that you include the student’s personal experiences into your article. You will find that I am not alone and that it why this united group continues to flourish. Big hug!

SZ: Hi Rona, the combination school/work was the best. I think that moving of the school from Bushiri to another place due to a government decision, and the desire to turn Bushiri into an all inclusive hotel was the downfall of the school. For me it was the best years of my education. In the beginning it was a bit difficult due to the language change however, as B mentioned, it was the bridge for those who wanted to continue their career in the US. After finishing Bushiri in 1986 I immediately started working at the Aruba Beach Club. We had the opportunity to work in several hotels/restaurants for our internship. Memories: Fernando Kock won’t let you enter the classroom if didn’t have your shoes clean, hair nicely groomed etc. Up to today, every two years we reunite as one big family, we laugh and share in good and bad. Reunions are held in Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Aruba. It’s always, always nice come together.

SG: Rona, during our last reunion in Aruba we visited EPI Hospitality sector. What I saw there, hurt my heart. It’s nothing compared to what we have been through in our Bushiri years. Very sad. Those days we used to have classes from 8-5 and lunch in the employees cafeteria. Most of the time if I’m not mistaken, meals were cooked by our fellow student colleagues.

AC: Hi Rona, I totally agree with all the comments of my student colleagues. I’m from Curacao and after finishing Bushiri I also worked in several hotels in Curacao. Those three and a half years at the Bushiri were the best years of my life, I still have profits of all I have learned. You all brought nice memories to all of us……have a nice blessed weekend.

SB: Wow, Rona, if you did not know you where corresponding with grownups (45+)  you would think you where in conversation with some teenagers. Reliving our best years of our lives. We are all thankful to AHTTC. In my personal experience, I got my LIFE there. My education really started there, if not for Bushiri with the excellent discipline. At the time, I finished LTS/EPB and got an opportunity at Bushiri as a foreign student. Incidentally, my wife of 28 years, and a couple of good friends are all from Bushiri!

FFF:  I second all the comments above. I joined later than most in this group… 1985. I had Gwen Rojer for accounting and the other ones mentioned before for other subjects. Late Tony Green also taught Sociology. Lilian Ruiz would be a good source as she attended Bushiri, continued her studies and is now a teacher at EPI. I did not continue in the hospitality industry, as I left Aruba in 88, however an Australian university, La Trobe, accepted my Bushiri credits so I was able to get my bachelors from them in 2 years. Good times, good teachers and staff, good fellow students. You can also visit our Facebook page where we share our nice moments and also pay respect to those who left before us:

https://m.facebook.com/AHTTC

J: I am from Bonaire and started Bushiri in 1983, then went to FIU after graduating in 1986, returned to Bonaire after graduating FIU and enjoyed a successful career ever since, which I am sure is thanks to the basics I was taught at Bushiri. Bushiri, as my colleagues said, was a very good school. Aside from the academics we were also taught grooming, discipline, teamwork and leadership. I have fond memories of my Bushiri years and am grateful for the friendship maintained with my colleagues. Even though I am not from Aruba, it pains me too that the Bushiri building and the AHTTC principles were forsaken.

SH: AHTTC was the best education decision made ever on the Island, it’s so sad to see what it became and how this changed to EPI. Every morning passing by to work it’s so painful to see the building where we all Bushiri Student had experienced such good education, discipline and fun memories of team work and studying together. I personally have a lot to thank for, for whom I am today in the hotel business.

AN: Those greatest years can never be forgotten, greetings to all for these memories pictures, saludos.

RD: Hi Rona. As a former student of the A.H.T.T.C, all I have to say is, that it was a great school for Hospitality Management Training. For those who wanted a job after graduation, for those who wanted to continue their studies, a tremendous school. Great teachers, great learning experience. I am very proud to have attended, great memories!

PS: One time, during bar class, we were learning to make flaming drinks. There was this girl who was a little insecure. Of course she spilled flaming alcohol on the bar…. Now we all know that the alcohol would have burned off very quickly, but I had the fire extinguisher ready, so I gave her (and half the classroom) a good spraying.  It was damn funny to see everything covered in white foam…….

AR: I won the first Mixology bartender contest with a drink called Aruban Desire. Fernando Kock was my teacher, a tough guy with a lot of patience. I remember we put the beverage department on fire and P S operated the fire extinguisher , extinguishing​ all of us, instead of the fire. Rona ,we also have a fellow student that served during the Iraq War. Roberto Da Camara. Better known as “Speedo,” he is the son of George da Camara, from the Trocadero days.

YL: Rona as you have been able to read from most of our  group, Bushiri was the onset and foundation of not just our careers but also our business ethics and because of our strong friendship or as we are  proud to say being part of this Bushiri family we have become the very best in our chosen fields. Always striving for higher achievements, pushing the limits, because all the instructors were very proud of being part of a new educational system, and made sure each and every student knew that. If on premises in uniforms or out and about we were repeatedly told that we represented high standards, and that really nothing was impossible if you just focus and work hard towards your goal. We had hands-on experience like the 1st Food competition, being judged by F&B professionals and learning all about teamwork. I was among the first set of AHTTC graduates in 1984. Today I can boast that the education I started at Bushiri has made me who I am.

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