June 23, 2005

Aruba prides itself on being a happy island, and one of the safest in the Caribbean. It's one of the first things I read in the introductory magazine they give you when you board the plane to get there.

So now what?

One missing girl doesn't mean Aruba is no longer safe, but if authorities don't solve the mystery of Natalee Holloway's disappearance, how much confidence will tourists have in the capabilities of law enforcement on the island? If the suspects in custody are involved, as Natalee's family believes, but police can't prove it, how bad a stain will this leave on the island's reputation?

An indelible one.

People don't plan on being victims of crime when they travel, and for many, it's the furthest thing from their minds. But EVERYONE wants to feel secure and confident that if something DOES happen the local cops will protect them or at least get to the bottom of things quickly and efficiently.

Who has this confidence today?

What percentage of potential visitors to Aruba would now say they're fully trusting of the abilities of officials there to stop crimes from occurring, or arrest and convict the perpetrators of a criminal act?

I'm guessing the number of people who support Aruba is shrinking fast, and the number who believe in it's crime-solving capabilities is shrinking faster, and the longer Natalee's case is unresolved, the quicker this situation will deteriorate.

Natalee's disappearance is a nightmare for her family. It's also a nightmare for Aruba. The island depends on vacationers. Tourism is the number one industry. Tourism officials are on the ropes, taking a beating daily, with no referee to ring the bell and no cut man to stop the bleeding.

If authorities don't find Natalee soon, and positively identify those responsible, the results will be devastating for Aruba's economy, its people, and its future.

When one local asked me how long FOX planned to stay on the island, I told her, "Until the case is solved," and she rolled her eyes at me.

"You're gonna be here a lonnng time" she said, with a sadly wry and knowing smile.