Say “Aruba” – Think “Natalee Holloway”


Lessons From The Holloway Disappearance

We are continually surprised at the number of press releases and other publicity pieces that we receive every day. To look at our email, you’d figure we were a “real” news organization instead of some friends who had an idea on New Year’s Eve two years ago – while passing a rum bottle around a fire on the beach.

Today we received a newsletter from a travel industry publication Travel Wire News that caused us to think about the vulnerability our own travel industry. The title hook to the lead story … “Aruba: Post-Natalee Holloway”

We’ve got news for Travel Wire News… it isn’t yet “Post-Natalee Holloway” for Aruba if your publication uses her name as a story hook – and that’s the simple truth. It is also the simple truth that an entire generation raised on the media and CNN will forever think “Natalle Holloway” when they hear the word “Aruba” in any context.

Lessons For Barbados Tourism

In my opinion, Aruba’s longterm fallout from the Natalle Holloway disappearance/murder/incident stems not from the tragedy itself – for tourist deaths, robberies, injuries and disappearances are not unknown at any travel destination. For Aruba, the damage resulted from the government and police response to her disappearance – both during the initial, obviously incompetent and corrupted police investigation and then as Aruba failed to counter an image that the Aruban elites are treated with kidd gloves and are above the law and common morality. In a word the perception was, “cover-up”.

Lesson one for Barbados therefore, is to realize that, once in a while, terrible things will happen on this island. Drunken teenaged tourists will get into cars with bad people while their school mates do nothing to prevent it, or the naive will go for a midnight swim in the surf – not thinking that hungry sharks come closer to shore for night feeding. These things will always happen no matter how much we try to prevent them.

Lesson two for Barbados is that the initial police response to any crime or incident must be thoroughly professional – because the performance of our police, medical profession and other first reponders will be held up to scrutiny and compared against the best in the world. Any incident involving foreigners, no matter how major or minor, has the potential to generate international media attention under a variety of circumstances.

Lesson three for Barbados is that the international traveling public will accept a few unfortunate tourist incidents – but only if there is not one hint of a cover-up or sloppy, uncaring response. Everybody knows that trouble happens – and they also know that what happens after the trouble occurs is the true test of any organization.

Lesson four for Barbados is that there should be a professional “international incident” response plan and policies in place. Perhaps 70% of our economy is tourist based in one way or another, and we should be responding to any incident with an attitude, resources and actions that show we care. For the police, that means that senior experienced officers are assigned from the first opportunity, and that senior management does everything it can to provide resources above and beyond the normal response. That might sound like a double standard when a victim is a tourist vs. a citizen – and it is – but the international scrutiny demands 110% and nothing less.

Sidenote: Maybe our blogging friend and Public Relations expert Karel McIntosh would care to weigh in on the issue of having a prepared response? We think that Adrian Loveridge could also lend some experience to the issue.

Look to Aruba to see the results of having no plan and no personnel in place to handle incidents that might involve international media attention. Street cops “winging it” in front of CNN cameras is a prescription for disaster.

Lesson five for Barbados is that it does much good to immediately invite foreign police investigators from the victim’s country to team up on the investigation. The egos of local police and political types must be left out of the equation. Foreign police investigators on the team provide information resources from the victim’s home country and a cultural perspective on the victim that Barbados police officers do not have. Foreign police services often have access to superior crime laboratories and other resources. Lastly, the inclusion of foreign police investigators goes a long way to remove any doubts about cover-ups.

The False Lesson Apparently Learned By Aruba’s Travel Industry…

The article from Travel Wire News seems to contain only one lesson that Aruba learned: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, in this case the American tourism market.

We think that is a false lesson because news and communications are everywhere. That Holloway was an American is less important than the fact that she was a young tourist whose disappearance was totally mishandled from the start. Aruba is now targeting the Spanish markets, but there is nothing to say that the next young girl who feeds the sharks won’t be Spanish!

Better to have a proper response, we think.

We’d be surprised if the “eggs in one basket” is the only lesson that Aruba picked up from their devastating tourism losses due to their pooched response to the Holloway disappearance.

Here’s an excerpt from that Travel Wire News article…

Putting all eggs in one basket – the American market – has proven to be unwise for Aruba. Back then, the island enjoyed 2004 as its record year. “The beginning of 2005 was good too; we could not even handle the business coming into Aruba. Unfortunately, we experienced the sad incident (Natalee Holloway disappearance) in May. We saw the downturn in the US market at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 translated to a drop of 14 percent in the 70 percent of our total business,” said Briesen.

Since this major fallout made a huge impact on tourism, seeking markets other than the US through the Spanish or any European chain offers Aruba a reasonable fallback position from today onwards.

No harder lesson than this setback has taught the Arubans about working exclusively with Americans or any single market, for that matter.

… read the entire article at Travel Wire News (link here)


Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism, Crime & Law, Traveling and Tourism

23 responses to “Say “Aruba” – Think “Natalee Holloway”

  1. Adrian Loveridge

    I agree with the BFP comments regarding exactly how these incidents are handled makes all the difference.
    When an American visitor was shot at a nearby apartment, which at that time wasn’t licenced, I immediately went to the scene. I tried several times to contact the emergency number for the Barbados Tourism Authority listed in the telephone directory but all I got was a full voicemail with no referral number.

    I followed the ambulance to the Accident and Emergency department at QEH and the visitor received immediate medical attention.

    The Police Public Relations officer also responded quickly as did the Member of Parliament for the area, Reginald Farley, who came to our hotel and
    followed me to the apartment to speak to the victim’s wife and daughter.

    I believe it was a combination of all those that showed genuine concern that helped minimise the potential bad publicity.

  2. BFP- You hit the nail on the head with this perceptive and important story. Cover-ups can end up doing more harm than the initial incident.

    Do you know whether Desk Sergeants are given adequate training to deal with such a problem the right way? Adrian Loveridge cannot be at the scene every time.

    P.S. As a matter of interest has a shark ever injured or killed a night bather in Barbados? If so it has escaped my attention over many decades.
    Or even a barracuda? Most of our sharks are onshore.

  3. You are so right about perception, and officials in Aruba just didn’t get it. The story played in the media for so long solely because of the way the case was handled. When I market travel specials for Aruba, I am reminded of Natalie – hince the media imprint.

    Aruba is still popular in the American market with those who have visited many times prior to this incident – but the average tourist has excluded this destination because of this case.

    I have to ask the same question as “bystander” – what about those sharks??

  4. John


    I have read about an incident in an old newspaper, c. 1927, about a tiger shark biting off a boy’s leg in the sea near in at Speightstown.

    He died from shock and loss of blood.

    Apart from that one incident I have never come across any other.

    So, anything is possible.

  5. hants

    I am over 50 years old and never heard of a shark attack near the shore in Barbados.

    An attack was possible in 1927 because back then Bonitos and Mackerels etc. were caught off the Jetties/Piers at Speightstown and Holetown.

    In later years these fish stayed offshore so the sharks feed on the “Bars” a mile or so offshore.

    I will continue to swim in the sea at night in Barbados because I think it is safe. Have done it for years.

  6. John


    If you take a leaf out of this Aussie’s book you can’t go wrong.

    ** Drunk Aussie attacks a shark **
    A drunk Australian fisherman wrestled a bronze whaler shark and survived to tell the story.

  7. John

    For me I am a landlubber.

  8. Sorry to join the conversation late. BFP you’re right. The right approach is to operate with consideration and efficiency, and it will be even better if it is applied to tourists and citizens, as it gives even more credibility to the Police Force. Like they say, you can do all the public relations and publicity you want, at the end of the day it won’t work if you don’t have the actions to back it up. Communications is at its best when it’s supported by credible action.

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  10. Angela

    I am 2 days away from a holiday in barbados, and reading this conversation and other various articles has made me extremely worried about shark attacks. Is there a chance of a shark attack on me while holidaying?
    hants, I gather that you live in barbados, so please could you help me here?
    Thankyou very much.

  11. J

    Dear Angela:


  12. Margaret Knight

    Angela, I think Natalee Holloway got mixed up with the wrong type of “sharks” in Aruba. Shark attacks (in the sea) in Barbados are practically unheard of. You’ll be safe. Come to Barbados and enjoy a wonderful vacation.

  13. @Angela: “Is there a chance of a shark attack on me while holidaying?”

    IMHO, you have a greater chance of being hit by lightening, or winning the lottery… (Read: very, very, very small…)

    Does anyone know the statistics on serious shark attacks in Barbados waters? Is it greater than one (1#) in all of recorded history?

  14. Margaret Knight

    When I was a child, my parents and some friends would get together on a Sunday and drive over to River Bay in St. Lucy for a dip (not really enough water for a proper swim) in the bay and a picnic. We often chatted with an elderly fisherman who had what in those days we called a “peg leg”. A shark had removed one of his legs. He was the only person I had ever heard of who had suffered from a shark attack.

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  16. torontone

    Barbados has the very best beaches in the world. Long Beach is not one of them. I have been there and would only go there with a group of 7 or 8 of mixed gender. This is a very unfortunate incident but it could happen at any secluded area anywhere in the world. The incident serves to remind us that secluded beaches are not that secluded when there is intent to create harm. Those beaches don’t have to be in Barbados. I will continue to go the beach every day I am in Barbados…but it will be where there are people around.

  17. Brenda

    I was saddened and shocked when I heard the news about the lady from Ottawa that was beaten on Long Beach Barbados. I offer my sincere thoughts and prayers to her and her family and wish her a full recovery.
    I have been vacationing in Barbados since the mid 70’s and was shocked to hear this news. I have always felt save in Barbados , and think of it as my second home . Even though I have gotten to know people there over the years I am still cautious and on the lookout. Everyone knows that there are bums, drunks,druggies,thieves and undesirable people no matter where you live or travel . Unfortunately most people on vacation are relaxed and often let their guard down and thieves pick up on that.
    This incident is an important reminder that no matter where you travel you should always travel in groups, stay in highly populated ,well lit areas, never get too comfortable with your surroundings and never let your guard down and always air on the side of caution, and it is never a good idea for wemon to wonder off by themselves.
    Don’t get me wrong nothing excuses what happened to this lady, nor should it …..
    I hope and pray that the person or persons responsible for this crime are caught and punished to the full extent of the law.

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  21. Justice4all

    What’s wrong, afraid to post my comment about Natalee Holloway/Pitbull/Vicenzo Tromp??

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