Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, October 16th, 2016

Bati Bleki Buzz Heroes: A story worth retelling, Starfish Rescue on Malmok

Marina Verploeg, a long time resident of Malmok met up with Wim Eelens, of Aruba Active Vacations on the beach Tuesday, October 4th, 2016. She was walking her dogs, he was inspecting his Surf School, obviously closed for the day, courtesy of hurricane Mathew.  They were both looking at a disaster waiting to happen, hundreds of starfish tossed onto the beach by the surging storm waves.

The storm itself had already passed, traveling North to pound other islands, but the wind shifted, blowing onshore, with 6 meter waves smashing against the coastline, delivering starfish and other small marine animals, dug out of their comfy seabeds by churning water, to die in the hot tropical sun and sand on the seaweed strewn beach.

Malmok has always been starfish paradise, and as Marina & Wim lived here all their lives, enjoying the beauty of these brittle, gorgeous, asteroid, they couldn’t just stand there and watch. Wim has connections, says Marina, and I brought some other neighbors, the kids, and some FB friends, and together we went to work for almost two days.

By connections, Marina means De Palm Tours, and animal rescue veteran Philip Merryweather from the Animal Garden. Win had the numbers stored in his phone from Hi-Winds, Cool FM, the media, and before you know it there were 300 volunteers on the Malmok beach, working with a great sense of urgency, picking up starfish, placing them in iced water, and later transporting them to neighboring quieter beaches, away from turbulent waters.

Marina reports that at first the kids were risking limbs and necks, paddling out on their SUP boards, to return buckets full of starfish, into the ocean, but that strategy did not work, because the persistent, hard-headed waves, spat them right back out.

So finally they lined Philip’s truck with plastic, water and ice, and loaded as many rescues as they could and made a few runs to alternative beaches.

We earned our stars, that day says Wim, and adds that he will be going out there to see how the relocated refugees are faring in their new environment.

Marina marvels at the team spirit, and the genuine care, as manifested last Tuesday and Wednesday by young and old carrying plastic buckets – Wim’s son kiddie pool was a lifesaver – and every size container, determined to help the distressed creatures, all that on Animal Day, October 4th, 2016, which was a very appropriate way of celebrating the day!

Many thanks to Eef van den Eerenbeemt, Nina van den Berg, Roos Rijnsaardt, Jade Riley, JP van den Eerenbeemt, Dominique, and many more volunteers, including a great number of tourists.

AHATA is having internal issues

According to an article recently published by MasNoticia, an excellent news provider, Jim Hepple: Miembronan cu a bandona board di AHATA ta pa motibo di tempo cu nan no tin mas, the General Manager of the Holiday Inn announced that he was leaving the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, due to his hectic schedule that would not allow him to continue to serve as board member of that organization.

Really? The General Manager of the Holiday Inn has no time, and has to travel? That man has been on the island for 10 years and can probably run his property with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back. Busy? No. The move is a fallout from the recent National Ordinance amendment, of the way hotels are licensed.

The owners of the Holiday Inn would have loved to convert it into a successful AI, just like its money-making neighbors on Palm Beach, but the amendment is preventing them from doing it. So, they are disappointed with AHATA, a lobby organization which failed to lobby on their behalf, and did not manage to protect their interest — ok, they did make the newspapers rich by publishing long, apparently useless articles. The fuss was futile. The Licensing Ordinance passed.

So Holiday Inn retires from AHATA. According to a great number of members I spoke to, “No Biggie,” that GM did not contribute much to the top-heavy board, 15 members, and his hotel will still be assessed for association dues, no big loss.

That same article also discussed the Hilton’s membership, and that’s a horse of a different color, but it is related to the failure of AHATA as an organization to represent the interests of all its members.

I have to regress. I already wrote about this issue before. There were two schools of thought at AHATA when the MinTour undertook opposition to AI, in the name of taxi drivers and restaurant operators, as part of his re-election campaign, a strategic move on the road to the MinPres’ title.

One school of thought said: Well, fxxx that. Investors should not be told what to sell or how to run their business. They made their investment on Aruba in good faith and should not be dictated to. We have a Free Market economy, no one is restricting hair salons and spas, why are you picking on the hotels. It is wrong.

The other school of thought said: Play nice with the sitting minister, it is his right to pass laws, he is the authority, you get more with sugar than with vinegar, see if you can negotiate, make changes in the suggested legislation, see if both sides can be politically satisfied, understand that the minister has a career to run, make a deal.

Which side would you have taken? I grew up in hospitality circles that embraced the second school of thought and was fond of politicians, and actually enjoyed friendly relationships with them, but maybe the politicians in the 80s, were better than the ones we have today ?!

Everyone I talked to, and there were many, said the same thing: The MinTour was helpful to the Hilton, when the brand was preparing to take over the property. Needless to say that the MinTour used the opportunity to strengthen his populist appeal, it was self-serving, but he was helpful, which proves the point that playing nice pays, and that you get more with sugar than with vinegar.

So now that you know where the wind is blowing, you should know that the Hilton indeed retired from AHATA. The owners decided to ask the GM to step down from the board, and withdraw the resort’s participation, on September 19th.

In protest.

What were they protesting? They are unhappy with the polarization between AHATA and the government. And the fact that that polarization led to zero results for hospitality.

The suggested labor law changes are stagnated, stuck on the MinLabor’s desk; the Beach Policy is quagmired, with more ragtag vendors added to the mix and zero enforcement of licensing, as it is stuck on the MinInfra’s and the MinJustice’s desks; concerns for security, stuck on the MinJustice’s desk.

Bottom line: The Hilton ownership observed very little progress booked by AHATA in discussions it participated with ministers, government, and/or unions! And by retiring its membership it is protesting against the  negative confrontations that lead to nowhere and costs a lot of money, in lawyers.

The Hilton ownership is of the opinion that it cannot always be the minister’s fault, and that valuable lobbying opportunities, present themselves all the time.

One more thing: The Hilton ownership also feels that the organization only serves the interests of some of its members, not all of its members, and that as a democratic body it should serve all members equally.

What do they mean by that Animal Farm concept: All Pigs Are Equal but Some Pigs are More Equal Than Others?

From talking to movers and shakers I can read between the lines that the Renaissance/Marriott block on the AHATA board, dictates the pace of that organization, which doesn’t always serve the smaller operators.

Naturally, I called Rene Kan, he told me he did not want to comment in the press, but I know what ticks him off, so I believe what he wants to see is a change in the way  AHATA’s board is run, fifteen board members is too much. He probably wants to see more fearless Arubans on the board, people who speak their mind, instead of GMs who must behave well, for need of a work permit! He probably also wants to see a change in the AHATA management, with an inspired and inspiring Aruban at the helm.

So anyway, you get my drift. I don’t view the move negatively. It is a cry for change. The Hilton’s ownership’s feathers were ruffled, with no positive progress on multiple fronts, and now it’s their turn to ruffle everybody else’s feathers.

I guess AHATA needs to change direction. By consenting to the Sui Generis status of the Aruba Tourism Authority, the private sector handed all the power over to the public sector. My friend Warren Stanley told me it would happen and warned me about it five years ago. So, now AHATA hands down the money to ATA, and gets nowhere with the government in return. Something is wrong with that picture.

According to my sources the Hilton ownership wants to focus on safety, all the time, not just as a reaction to incidents, address immigration issues, new hotel construction, the proliferation of apartments and most importantly taxing alternative accommodations listed on websites such as AirBnB.

This should be a clear message to AHATA that just lost 1,000 rooms, which represent a large chunk of our hotel inventory.

Festive opening of Alex & Ani, a flagship jewelry boutique at the Hacienda Mall, on Palm Beach

We were invited to a swanky party for the opening of Alex & Ani, a flagship jewelry boutique at the Hacienda Mall, on Palm Beach. The event was very well attended by town’s movers and shakers, probably because owner Reena Chugani oversaw all aspects of celebration, and it showed. There is a generous payoff when the owner is engaged and engaging.

Of course, Vibration Media & PR also did a great job on the invitee list, and chef Erwin Husken dazzled us with his bite size hors d’oeuvres.

The Alex & Ani jewelry brand – I even have a bracelet, have been wearing it since last Christmas  — is very popular among my bohemian, chic girlfriends, who love to stack bracelets promoting the gypsy style.

I just learned that besides being nicely designed, the brand is also eco-friendly, with jewelry made from recycled metal parts!

Alex & Ani was born in 2004, created by Carolyn Rafaelian, and her initial designs received world class promotion when Beyonce and Selena Gomez started wearing some of her unique pieces.

The brand’s name, a combination of the designer’s two daughters’ names, strikes a friendly note, and the pieces themselves tell stories, related to flora, fauna, the celestial constellations, country flags, icons and symbols, in bracelets, bangles, charms, rings, necklaces and earrings, with or without crystals and semi-precious stones. The brand flaunts a number of fully developped themes, which lend themselves to mix and match, or mix and mismatch stacking, and all pieces relate to each other, in color, material or design.

Because the Alex & Ani brand is dedicated to sustainability, charity is strongly linked to sales. And at the opening party, Stimami-Sterilisami, the dog and cat spay / neuter campaign initiated by Bucuti &Tara Beach Resorts, received a generous donation, which was collected by Tisa LaSorte.

It’s good to mention that the brand products are handcrafted in America and designed for durability, with a classic look that lends then a vintage feel, and propels us to collect them.

The Alex & Ani Boutique is open Monday to Saturday 12noon to 10pm and Sundays from 6pm to 10pm.  Our dynamic friend Brigitte Wauben is store manager, she has strong sales and people skills.

At the opening, Omar Ajaj, Vice President of International Business Development for Alex & Ani received even more compliments than the jewelry. The handsome, tall brand ambassador, mixed and mingled, collecting long looks from his newly acquired female admirers on the island.

Incidentally, Reena’s husband, Tesh Chugani, is also the owner of Kay’s fine Jewelry. I wrote about the couple before, when we visited the Acoya Villa Resort & Spa in Curacao, owned by Reena’s parents.

Reena went to the Wharton Business School and started her career with her family’s real estate business in Curacao. She moved to Aruba four and a half years ago after marrying her husband Tesh. Reena and Tesh recently became parents to an adorable liltle girl, I bet she already wears Alex & Ani.

GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. I got some mail, from industry friends: My sales manager just got back from attending Delta Vacations and The Mark Travel conferences, two of Aruba’s major wholesalers where they have their top travel agents attend to meet with suppliers. Approx.  500 agents attended each show held in two different cities. By far and away the single most requested item at the conference among the 1,000 agents was “all-inclusive hotel packages” and not necessarily from 3 star properties, but looking for 4 and 4 ½ AI accommodations. With Aruba’s declining arrivals entering into its sixth month this year and our US market up a meager 1% year to date, how is our enterprising MinTour and dynamic ATA going to stop the bleeding without being able to meet this “low hanging fruit” demand without any additional AI product or AI product in the pipeline? End of mail.

That said, the preliminary September results were just published and the average room occupancy was up by 8.8 percentage points from 71.1% in September 2015 to 79.9% in September 2016, and the overall number of available room nights increased by 1.3%. This was due to the addition of 60 rooms to the Divi All Inclusive resort which became operational during February 2016. The total number of occupied room nights increased by 13.4%. This was due to the general increase in demand as well as the addition of 60 rooms to the Divi Tamarijn/Divi All Inclusive, while the overall Average Daily Rate was down by 0.8% from $176.04 in September 2015 to $174.57 in September 2016, with the higher average occupancies but lower Average Daily Rate, revenue per occupied room increased by 11.4% from $125.25 in September 2015 to $139.48 in September 2016. (Source AHATA- ATA)

MOUSTACHEF IN HAVENSTRAAT, NOW OPEN. I stopped at Moustachef for a soup-to-go this week. It was a delicious Cauliflower Cream, compliments to the chef. Moustachef is located where the Chez Mathilde kitchen once stood, adjacent to the charming Cunucu House now home to Optica Kok. The tiny bistro is wedged between sunglasses and electronics — the optica and Boolchand’s emporium — and serves local and international cuisine, with easy parking just across the street. Patrons may sit inside in air-condition or in the open air foyer. Moustachef serves lunch and drinks and coffee, and will pack everything to go! They cater, they deliver, they take reservations and they welcome walk-in. Very flexible indeed.

The restaurant features a buffet of local specialties every day, and the day I was there I noticed everything from Stoba to Funchi, looking at me temptingly. Moustachef, Havenstraat 23 L2, Oranjestad, Aruba Tel.: 583 2433.

I found two well known local personalities, at Moustachef, talented singer Edjean Semeleer and F&B professional Arthur Loefstok. This is not their first collaboration. They tried before when they opened O restaurant, at Paseo Herencia, which got over their heads. The place was just too big, too inaccessible and too complicated to run. But the two entrepreneurs did not give up, they relocated their business to town, and I think they have a good formula this time.

The café interior is charming, and the wait staff very accommodation and sweet. Arthur says he wanted to call the place Eatopia, but then opted for the whimsical Moustachef!

Alfonso Boekhoudt, appointed Aruba’s new governor!

This column is going to be of little interest to my Aruban readers, but will entertain English speakers and expats.

I already wrote about the subject of the island’s next governor here:

Last Friday, it was announced that our GevMin, the minister representing Aruba in the Netherlands was appointed the island’s next governor, and on Tuesday, King Willem-Alexander made it official, by signing a decree that Alfonso Boekhoudt  is his new representative here.

This is a good time to mention that the island appreciates its current governor, Fredis Refunjol, in office since 2004. Originally a teacher, he is a man-of-the-people who loves fishing and baseball, but never shies from a difficult decision; he is measured and cool-headed, warm and spontaneous at the same time, and he is liked on both sides of the ocean, in the Netherlands and in Aruba.

As he is about to retire at age 66, our government submitted a list of three names, three appropriate candidates to replace him, hoping that one of them would be pick by the kingdom as successor.

Among the names our current MinFin and a former MinHealth, which were turned down by the Netherlands perhaps because of their age, or because of their political affiliations.

In the case of our current MinFin, an accomplished professional, it was his age, as the kingdom decided he would be too senior to serve twelve more year in an official capacity!

So, while the candidates provided by the island were solid, educated individuals, the kingdom said Nee.

Ticked off, Aruba then dragged its feet and no other candidates were forthcoming, which prompted the monarch to decide for himself, and he picked the closest Aruban in his circle the GevMin, or as we refer to him, Minister Plenipotenciario di Aruba.

Boekhoudt arrived in the Netherlands when popular Minister Plenipotenciario Edwin Abath returned home in 2013. He was director of the Aruba Port Authority for many years before that, and also chaired the Red Cross operations here.

A great guy and a dedicated family man — he has nine children – who according to everyone’s sources asked the MinPres for a favor. He wanted to go to the Netherlands where medical treatment was readily available because one of his children was seriously ill.

His wish was granted by the Min Pres, and in the last three years, Alfonso apparently ingratiated himself across the board to become the king’s favorite for the island’s governor position.

And this is where all sources agree: Aruba’s MinPres got offended. In fact, terribly pissed. He cancelled all public appearances, including the one at the opening of the refinery, last week, and has not been heard/seen since then. He is outraged that the King decided on his own and that Alfonso did not play hard to get, and never consulted his benefactor before saying “I do.”

I imagine, the king decided on his own because Rafunjol was retiring imminently, and candidates from Aruba were scarce. Alfonso decided to say yes, because that was an opportunity of a lifetime and a dream job!

And that’s all we know.

Whatever happens, we all hope the MinPres doesn’t undertake another hunger strike under the tree at Fort Zoutman to protest what he perceives as signs of disrespect. If you recall he already did that in protest of financial scrutiny imposed on the island by the Kingdom, he went on a 6 day “hunger strike,” drinking Ensure, in July 2014.

FYI: Aruba’s governor enjoys two-fold duties, representing and guarding the general interests of the Kingdom and serving as the head of the Aruban Government, accountable to the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Governor does not have political responsibilities and is not part of the local cabinet. He plays however, a very important role during the formation of the cabinet. Appointed by the monarch for a period of six years, this period can be prolonged for one more term of six years. The governor is supported by his secretariat the cabinet of the governor, and is advised by the Council of Advice (Raad van Advies), consisting of at least 5 members, appointed by the governor, advising him on the drafts of state ordinances, state decrees, kingdom acts and general administrative orders.

A picture worth Awg 50.000

Remember July of 2014?

When the Governor refused to sign off on the 2014 island budget and the MinPres was unable to stomach the Dutch kingdom’s desire to control our expenses, he went on a so called Hunger Strike, practicing food deprivation for six day, drinking Ensure, sitting in the courtyard of Fort Zoutman, surrounded by local voters, followers, and those who had nothing else to do.

His ego was bruised by the Dutch suggestion that our country’s budget should be examined.

He wrapped up the drama he was starring in when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, on a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down on, July 17th, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, many of them Dutch nationals.

The tragedy occupied the Dutch Authorities’ time, and they couldn’t deal with a huger striking MinPres, and thus he started eating again.

AZV, our national Insurance provider just got hit with the bill for the ambulance, parked 24/7 at Fort Zoutman, available to measure the MinPres vital signs, while he was hunger striking. One of his followers must have ordered it. So it was taken out of commission, and parked at Fort Zoutman, fully staffed. How much was the bill? It was Awg 50,000.

A manned and stocked ambulance, standing idle for six days, controlling vital signs, we have many pictures of that, that’s Awg 50.000.

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October 16, 2016
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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