Missing Teen in Aruba's Effect on Tourism

Officials fear the recent disappearance of Natalee Holloway — the 18-year-old Alabama student who went missing in Aruba — could affect tourism to the tropical island. The island's prime minister and a travel industry analyst offer their thoughts about security on Aruba, and the potential impact on the island's economy.

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In Aruba, the search continues for Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old Alabama high school student who went missing more than 10 days ago during a class trip. Her disappearance has been international news. Now Aruba is struggling to make sure its tourism industry won't suffer. NPR's Karen Grisby Bates reports.

KAREN GRISBY BATES reporting:

American eyes have been riveted to news channels as continued coverage of high school graduate Natalee Holloway report the latest developments.

Unidentified Man #1: (From news coverage) We have five people now behind bars facing accusations of being involved in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, but according to prosecutors who gave a press conference...

Unidentified Man #2: (From news coverage) Five people are now being held in the disappearance of an Alabama teen-ager vacationing in Aruba.

Unidentified Man #3: (From news coverage) All right. The prime minister of Aruba is speaking, Nelson Orlando Oduber, on the fate, whatever we know of it, of...

BATES: As those broadcasts from CNN and FOX News indicate, there have been arrests of five people suspected of being involved with the attractive blonde teen-ager's disappearance, including the son of a local Dutch judge, but no definitive resolution of the case. Aruba's prime minister, Nelson Orlando Oduber, wants Americans to know that Natalee's disappearance is distressingly atypical for the island that prides itself on its lack of serious crime.

Prime Minister NELSON ORLANDO ODUBER (Aruba): We have the lowest crime rate in the whole Caribbean. We feel we are a safe island. We receive more than a half a million Americans going by air and nearly one million by cruise ships. So we care about people coming to Aruba. We are a friendly island. So as prime minister leading this country, I'm very disappointed and sad what's going on in these days.

BATES: Oduber says that about 60 percent of Aruba's tourists are American and the bulk of those are repeat visitors. So he especially wants Americans to know that Aruba is doing its utmost to keep them secure.

Prime Minister ODUBER: We can't allow anybody, either local or international, to harm our tourist industry. Tourist is our bread, is income for the government, our people and the whole economy.

BATES: Prime Minister Oduber himself likes to emphasize his island's safety by swimming alone at dawn each day. He says he's had no problems in the past two years since he started this regimen. Diane Clarkson says the prime minister's solo swims are a good example of why Americans consider Aruba safe. Clarkson is a travel analyst for Jupiter Research in New York City. She believes that because the Holloway disappearance seems random and not the result of attacks that target Americans or part of a pattern of violence, Aruba will survive its current intense scrutiny.

Ms. DIANE CLARKSON (Travel Analyst, Jupiter Research): At this point, it appears that this is an isolated incident in what's going on. And so I think that would real work toward Aruba's benefit as far as really having a minimal impact on tourism.

BATES: And Clarkson says the Aruban government's quick reaction to the incident may reassure Americans who had been planning an island visit.

Ms. CLARKSON: We're really seeing how quickly the Aruba Tourism Board and the Arubian government have responded to what's going on. The Aruba government's been working closely with officials, US and Dutch officials. And, in fact, they actually closed our offices on Monday so that the employees could go out and participate in the search. So I think all of this is really building a sense of good will.

BATES: So far, that strategy seems to be working. Clarkson says initial industry reports since Holloway has vanished look hopeful.

Ms. CLARKSON: Travel Weekly reported that wholesalers have not reported any cancellations in travel to Aruba at this point. So that certainly bodes well for the Aruban tourism market.

BATES: Meanwhile, Aruba residents continue to search and hope for a happy conclusion to the Natalee Holloway saga. Karen Grisby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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