Arikok’s visitors center
Arikok National Park has undergone a major upgrade over the past two years and the outcome is pretty good. Although the project took longer than expected, the result is a more accessible park with a good looking visitors center complex, located just after passing the park entrance. Last weekend I took a tour around the park and as a result I’ve written a very candid analysis of what I’ve seen, followed by some of my suggestions.
The visitors complex is a good idea and looks pretty slick, thanks to the wooden structure. In the visitors complex you’ll receive information about the park – both visually and written – and there’s also a small logo shop with a coffee corner. Park officials are also there to help you around.
As for the rest of the park, the new road has made it more accessible indeed. Some might say that there shouldn’t be a road there but I think the road is a good idea. Strangely, it fits well with the surroundings.
It’s gonna cost you
After all the renovations, with all the new facilities, the National Park is expected to start asking for admission fees, whereas now (and in the past) entrance is – still – for free. From what I understand the projected prices is $10 or $12 per person.
I foresee a problem with this. I’m not sure people are keen on paying that kind of money for what the park currently has to offer. At least not the way things are organized right now. After the announcement some locals criticized the measure as well despite the fact that the price for locals is roughly half. Nevertheless, accessibility is not worth $10 or $12 per person. Let me explain.
Awesome National Park
Arikok National Park has enough attractions to entice visitors all day long. Natural Pool, Fountain Cave, Quadirikiri Cave, Tunnel of Love Cave, Natural Bridge, Jamanota Hill, Arikok Hill, Visitors Center, open nature, animals, history and culture.
The national park wants and needs to become self sufficient, whereas now they depend for 100% on the government for its funding. Officials of Arikok understood this and knew right away that in order for it to become more attractive they needed to invest mostly in accessibility. This means more traffic which leads to revenue.
After lobbying in Brussels to the European Union to receive grants from special funds for investments in eco-parks, intended for overseas territories of EU-member states, Aruba’s National Park received funds to implement the plans.
To become self sufficient, charge!
To generate income the park is going to charge money somewhere. Where? At the entrance. Per person. Park officials have been counting heads for well over a year now and they’ve been crunching the numbers to come to the $10 or $12 price-tag per person. Is this the best way to monetize the park? I doubt it. It lacks creativity and the price scares people away. The park needs the traffic urgently and by charging a fee the contrary will probably happen.
Now, don’t get me wrong I understand the economics and understand the need to make money. Like stated before they need to become self supporting and stop relying on the government for funding. I think in all honestly it isn’t fair that all local and foreign taxpayers have to fund a park that only a select group use. Instead let the park visitors themselves pay for the facilities.
Following are some well-intended suggestions. I invite park officials to plagiarize them and use them as their own. Just continue to make the park better.
- Charge only $1 dollar per person. This way you keep taps on who enters and let them sign the well known waiver with all rules, warnings and regulations. Offer to sell them maps of the park, including the services offered by the park. Additionally you can sell ad space in that map to generate additional income. For corporate clients such as tour operators continue to charge per person on a monthly basis.
- Remove all the warning signs. It’s very unpleasant, and downright ugly. Or at least make them nicer. When I see a park entrance with the sign “Enter at your own risk” it makes me nervous. Natural Pool: “Swim at your own risk”, Fountain Cave: “Forbidden to…”, Natural Bridge near Boca Prins: “Danger, cave-ins”, Dos Playa: “No swimming…”. It not really welcoming. Put a park guide where needed. If a guide is not needed build a nice sign with pictures and explanations.
- Offer paid hiking tours around the park. It’s preferable to charge for a tour that people want to take, then charge a general entrance fee and offer free tours. Hiking is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to say.
- Offer paid scenic tours in open-air vehicles around the park, with historical and cultural information.
- Offer paid biking tours. Organize biking activities for locals.
- Sell all necessary equipment for a day at the park. Hiking gear, swimming gear, surfing gear, etc.
- Open a logo shop/gift shop with high quality merchandise and local art.
- Expand the visitors center with high quality food and beverage which perhaps might become the biggest money maker. In the park there aren’t many F&B options, create an oasis, thus a monopoly.
- Fix and open the three major caves. Do something to the gate at Fountain Cave and offer free guided tours. Open (completely) Quadirikiri Cave and offer free and guided tours. At Tunnel of Love Cave a guide and lights are indispensable, offer paid tours there.
- Boca Prins and Dos Playa are beaches with massive waves, organize activities for surfers and ask for administration charges. Create a buzz with the younger user.
- Clean up the Natural Bridge near Boca Prins, fix up the place and remove the ugly signs. It’s nice and just in need of some love. Put a guide there as I think there is enough to see in that area.
- Natural Pool might be one of the nicest attractions in the park and Aruba for that matter. Fix the road on certain points to the pool. Change the parking area and build it closer to the pool, this way skipping the 80+ uneven steps needed to get there. Put a wooden deck near the very slippery entrance of the pool. Offer transfer services from the Visitors Center to the Natural Pool and back for $10 0f $15 per person.
- Start using the internet. Where’s your website? Start interacting with the users, put videos, pictures and stories. Monetize the website by offering incentives and selling tickets for tours and National Park-gear online. The new National Park logo is nice and looks very nice on a shirt for sale online.
- Make sure to offer education opportunities to the staff and rotate the functions to keep things interesting.
I understand that not all of the above is within reach of the park, especially in terms of funding. Additionally the park is limited to what the law allows them to do. In that case, lawmakers need to make work of this and change them as needed.
Foundation Parke Nacional Arikok’s purpose is to protect and preserve the flora, fauna, geology and historical remains present at the site. They need money to do that.
Perhaps some of my ideas are a bit callous, ambitious, capitalistic, severe, opportunistic, unrealistic or downright extreme, but I truly think there are some usable ideas in between. When applying some of above mentioned suggestions Arikok makes money to cover its costs and to keep investing into the future of park, which ultimately is the most important thing going forward.
Keep true to the social aspect of the park and only charge a symbolic $1 entrance fee and continue to give schools and boy scouts groups free entrance/excursions.
Concluding, these were just some thoughts of mine. I truly feel Arikok National Park is on the right path forward. It just needs a little nudge to push it towards super-stardom and become a leader in the Caribbean.
Entering the park, with the visitors complex
View of the rear end of the visitors complex
Amazing sand dunes in the park at Boca Prins
Boca Prins sand dunes
Entrance Fontain Cave, not very welcoming
Fountain cave, former coral reefs
Close-up cave action: stalactite and stalagmite coming together
Indian drawing in Fountain Cave
Forming Natural Bridge
Awesome Dos Playa beach, popular with body surfers