While this is a pride-inspiring milestone, those who have been part of this journey know that you don’t get to celebrate six decades of service to Aruba’s tourist industry without an endless supply of passion, dedication and perseverance.
Over the years, De Palm Tours has transported, toured, entertained and serviced millions of visitors from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to all persons, from all walks of life, in between.
Aruba has been blessed with a thriving tourism industry during this time, and De Palm Tours has proudly contributed to that industry for over sixty years.
The story has been told a number of times, but it is good to remember that grit is the secret ingredient.
On January 15, 1960 Witchi De Palm started a small bus company which carried his name and consisted of 3 mini buses and a staff of ten, offering transportation and sightseeing services to Aruba vacationers. Eleven years later, in 1971 two young and ambitious local entrepreneurs, Harold Malmberg and Ramon Richardson purchased De Palm Tours with funds they raised from friends and family members and thus began the process of creating the company, and growing it to what it is today.
Harold Malmberg bought his partner ‘s shares to become the sole owner of the company in 1982, and with his son and daughter recently graduated from college in the USA, they set about to transform the company for the new decade.
It wasn’t always easy.
When De Palm Island opened in 1985 things did not always go according to plan. It took the better part of fifteen years of grit and perseverance, experimenting with different concepts, until the attraction of an island-off-the-island eventually caught on.
Today De Palm Island is a successful visitor attraction, welcoming more than one hundred and fifteen thousand guests annually. The island has recently enjoyed an Awg 10 million investment, projected to grow its popularity even more, over the coming years.
Thanks to careful succession planning, the family has been able to step out of daily operation, to serve on the board of directors, and focus on their role as shareholders.
The last decade brought substantial expansion to De Palm Tours. The company has grown to employ approximately four hundred people, operate a fleet of thirty luxury-motor coaches, sixty off-road vehicles, a 100-passenger catamaran, two submarines, two attractions on De Palm Island, also offering a strong Destination Management Company, providing many services to accommodate the growing tourism markets and demands, the Natural Bridge complex, the De Palm Pier and five retail outlets, in the tourist areas.
When eleven years ago the Aruba Tourism Authority honored 16 individuals who contributed to the development of tourism on the island, recognizing the important role they played in Aruba’s journey which started in 1959, the year before De Palm Tours was born, it included Harold Malmberg and Ramon Richardson, among honorees on the monument at Plaza Turismo.
From my Book: Island Life, available for sale at T.H.Palm & Company, Playa Linda Beach Resort.
HAROLD MALMBERG – THE DEVELOPER
De Palm’s Harold Malmberg looks a lot like movie-kingdom’s Omar Shariff. Poised and serene, he could have been cast as a turn-of-the-century owner of a Spanish hacienda. When he speaks, it is with the authority of a Swiss banker. They don’t call you Mr. Tourism for nothing! Harold laughs when asked when he first saw the place we today call De Palm island. In 1985, he explains, with the closing of the Lago oil refinery and the subsequent negative impact on the island’s economy, he frantically searched for a new idea, an innovative investment. Being already professionally involved with entertainment and transportation, he looked at a new project combining the two. I wanted something unique, and had the idea of an island-off-an-island in the back of my head for 15 years.
As a Dive-Shop operator, he then sent all his divers to scour the beaches off-the-beaten-track and locate the perfect nature reserve, blessed by an abundance of fish and living coral. They soon returned praising an exceptional, forgotten site. That’s how De Palm Island was born, Harold recalls. Leased from the government for 60 years, Harold couldn’t find a contractor, locally, with experience in that type of construction. He ended up hiring a small sub-contractor and hand-picking one-hundred-and-twenty-five additional workers himself. With the help of an out-of-work ex-oil-refinery engineer, their vision then started taking shape, using only environmentally-friendly materials such as straw and wood, imported from Surinam especially fitted for marine work. Improvising left and right they yanked a diesel engine out of an old bus and made it into a barge, to safely transport materials across the channel. No electricity, no water, no sewer lines, it had to be built from scratch.