Update from DATE 2014, the Dominican Republic Tourism Conference

Colourful houses on the Samana waterfront. (Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.)
Colourful houses on the Samana waterfront. (Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.)

The State of Tourism in the Dominican Republic

Our Caribbean Editor, Ed Wetschler, is at DATE—the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange, here are a few updates on tourism in the Dominican Republic.

“While the arrivals to the Caribbean grew 1 percent in 2013, tourism to the Dominican Republic increased 3.6 percent, for a total of 4.7 million visitors” said Radames Martinez-Aponte, Vice Minister of the Department of Tourism. Americans accounted for 1.6 million of those visitors, and Canadians, 700,000. “Arrivals in January and February were up six or seven percent, so we are forseeing even higher growth in 2014.”

Almost two-thirds of those arrivals are now staying in Punta Cana, but that is expected to change because of these and other factors:

  • The country’s recent highway-building binge has shortened distances between destinations, increasing the attractiveness of destinations like Samana, Puerto Plata, and the capital city, Santo Domingo.
  • The extraordinary renovations and infrastructure improvements now going on in Santo Domingo have already started attracting day-trippers from Punta Cana and other resort areas. The plan is to have everything in place in a couple of years, ideally in 2016.
  • New hotels are opening in Santo Domingo, including the Sheraton, which opened on March 27.
  • Carnival Cruise Lines is completing  a new cruise ship terminal in Puerto Plata, which had gone through a bad patch but is now on the upswing again.
  • The government is offering 10 to 15 years of tax incentives to hoteliers to either build a new product or upgrade existing properties. “Last year we approved 34 projects,” said Martiniez-Aponte, and these projects are throughout the country.

This is not to discount Punta Cana, of course. It’s still the “big guy” in Dominican and, indeed, Caribbean tourism, and the aforementioned tax incentives are partly responsible for the fact that the majority of hotels in Punta Cana are currently upgrading rooms, public spaces, restaurants, and/or other facilities.

Stephen Bradley, product manager for Delta Vacations and MLT Vacations, had something to say about all this, too. For starters, the airline has experienced triple-digit growth in the Dominican Republic between 2011 and the end of 2013. Of course, new flights from Cincinnati and Pittsbrugh have helped, but so have other factors: the growth of Delta Vacations’ wedding and honeymoon packages, and expansion of product so that the tour operator is handling 40 hotels in Punta Cana alone. Moreover, said Bradley, “We’re seeing a lot of growth in Samana, especially with the new highway, and we see a lot of potential in Santo Domingo.”