Having attended numerous conferences over the last decade at The Westin Aruba Resort and 50+ elsewhere throughout the Caribbean, it’s not a stretch to say this 4-diamond beachfront resort is one of the most intelligently designed hotels in the islands for a meeting planner. The Westin was host hotel for last year’s SITE International Conference, and except for all of us with our SITE badges, you’d never have known there was an international conference in town. The 481-room Westin offers the largest hotel meeting square footage on the island, with 18,000-sf of function space including the 10,850-sf Palm Beach Ballroom. There’s just the one high-rise tower so even with a buyout, everyone is located close together. And every unit, including the 79 suites, features an oceanview balcony to help enhance group parity. All of the meeting space is situated on the lobby level, but secluded away from the lobby, restaurants and casino. A glass-enclosed gallery displaying local art and photography is the DMZ between the function rooms and public spaces, which makes for a sterling event space. SITE used the gallery for attendees to network with suppliers during coffee breaks. “Everything is all in one building, it’s not like you have to trek across the entire resort to get to your room, and then back again, every time you want to freshen up,” says Patrick Donovan, director of sales. “Planners also like the layout because meeting participants run into each other all the time.” During the event, Switzerland Tourism hosted a cocktail event on the outdoor Sirocco Verandah elevated above the pool and beach. It’s a great space because there’s always a welcome breeze blowing due to the terrace’s orientation, hence the verandah’s Moroccan name for “wind.” Lastly, the list of nine F&B outlets is decidedly impressive considering the room count. Blossoms restaurant is an island favorite and fun for groups with its quirky yet convenient juxtaposition of Japanese and Chinese dining sections, offering both teppanyaki grills and traditional seating. The other two gourmet restaurants are the Mediterranean-themed Café Baci, and expansive Pago Pago steakhouse with large windows overlooking the palm trees lining the beach. What’s more, planners have the unique option at The Westin to book groups on an all-inclusive plan. Attendees just sign for their food and drinks, and the system is set up so they don’t have to wear bracelets. It’s not everyday you’ll find truly upscale, all-inclusive, à la carte fine-dining for your groups in a top-tier Caribbean destination. That also extends to pool servers tending to guests on the beach and by the pool. “Groups benefit from that service and that’s just one of the reasons we have the highest repeat rate with groups on the island,” says Donovan. “We call this ‘the tranquil tropics,’ which refers to the beach, the weather, the people. And because The Westin Aruba Resort is designed like it is, it enhances this wonderful sense of well-being and creates an easy, breezy flow for the group.” PALM BEACH PLATES Directly across from The Westin, there are four blocks packed with restaurants filled with guests staying at the dozen or so properties lining Palm Beach, about 20 minutes north of the airport. This is the beauty of Aruba for groups—a ton of dining and activity options within walking distance from the hotels. Every food and budget type is represented, from the taco/dim sum menu at Chino Latino to upscale French fine dining at Papillon, which by the way, does a fantastic red wine truffle sauce over an 8-ounce Angus filet mignon.