Some Alabama Vacationers Still Picking Aruba – For Now

By Felicia Persaud
Additional Reporting By Allison Skeete

Hardbeatnews, NEW YORK, N.Y., Fri. July 1, 2005: Elon Allen at Travel Inc., a top Birmingham, Alabama travel agency, has yet to receive those dreaded phone calls canceling trips to Aruba or the Caribbean. But he feels they will soon come.

As the mystery over the disappearance of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway grips the state and the nation, Allen says while people in Alabama are “angry and disappointed” about the way the Aruba government has handled the incident, many, especially in Birmingham and neighboring areas, have yet to opt out from Caribbean vacations they had planned months ahead.

But the travel agent is not sure this trend will continue in the near future. “This has not had a real effect on Caribbean travel at present because tourists already booked and would loose their money if they cancelled now,” Allen told HBN yesterday. “However, future packages will be affected. People just won’t book to the region (and) the larger travel agencies in the area will feel the effect when that happens. No one wants to go someplace on vacation and spend more time thinking about their safety. What would be the point of vacation?”

Such a fall-out would be a serious blow to the island, since it is heavily dependent on tourism with most of its visitors being from the U.S. Tourist arrivals to the island also declined after 9/11.

Still Allen says the general consensus is that although the young woman’s disappearance could have happened in Alabama, Jamaica or any place else. But he says what people in Alabama are angry and disappointed about is the way the Aruba government has handled the incident.

“In Alabama, the feeling is that the matter has been handled ineptly and in a manner that portrays the nation as unable to solve the case,” he added.

Other travel agencies near by declined to say whether bookings have been cancelled. At Go Travel no one answered the phone while a staffer at All Seasons hung up abruptly.

Birmingham is about five miles away from Mountain Brook, Alabama, the area that was home to Holloway before she disappeared on May 30. It is a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, where the median household income is US $100,483, and where the black and foreign-born population is almost non-existent.

It is in contrast from Aruba, where the majority of the population is considered Caribbean Amerindian with a growing percentage of new comers from the Netherlands, its mother country, South America, the Far East, and other islands of the Caribbean. Aruba’s first inhabitants were the Caquetios Indians from the Arawak tribe.

Meanwhile, Aruba prosecutors now admit they have no physical proof that Holloway was murdered but say they are still prepared to pursue a murder case.

Attorney General Caren Janssen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the absence of a body would not prevent investigators from pursuing a murder charge. Her family, however, are not giving up hope that she will be found alive, even as hope dims as time passes and the leads grows slim.

This as Aruba’s Tourism Authority continues hope for a positive outcome. –