Last updated: 02:07 PM ET, Thu April 21 2016

Dominican Republic Leaders Seek to Support Surging Visitor Arrivals

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | April 21, 2016

Dominican Republic Leaders Seek to Support Surging Visitor Arrivals

PHOTO: Radhames Martinez Aponte (left) and Simon Suarez announce new Dominican Republic tourism developments at the Dominican Annual Travel Exchange (DATE) conference. (Photo by Brian Major).

Dominican Republic tourism officials are seeking to extend the destination’s surging visitor arrivals growth through projects designed to enhance access to the key Punta Cana resort district and emerging tourist regions of the Caribbean nation.

Officials outlined their plans this week at the Dominican Annual Travel Exchange (DATE) conference in Punta Cana. Among the noteworthy developments announced at the conference is the launch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance for U.S. citizens at Punta Cana International Airport beginning in May of 2017.

Punta Cana International will become the fourth Caribbean airport to offer pre-clearance for U.S. travelers, following the Bahamas, Bermuda and Aruba. The Punta Cana airport welcomes 66 percent of all travelers coming to the Dominican Republic, said Radhames Martinez Aponte, vice minister of tourism.

The Dominican Republic last year welcomed 5.6 million overnight visitors, number one among Caribbean destinations according to Caribbean Tourism Organization statistics. Officials expect the country to reach the six million visitor mark in 2016.

“Punta Cana International Airport continues to be the main point of entry into the country,” said Simon Suarez, president of Asonahores, the Dominican Republic’s hotel and tourism association. Added Martinez Aponte, “If Punta Cana is doing well the country is doing well.”

Driven by Punta Cana’s broad appeal, Dominican Republic visitor arrivals have grown by 5.8 percent annually between 2010 to 2015, said Martinez Aponte. During the same period Caribbean destinations posted a collective 3.7 percent arrivals growth rate while global destinations achieved a 4.8 percent annual increase, he said.

“Our arrivals were up seven percent between January and March, meaning that as a destination that we continue to grow at a good pace,” said Martinez Aponte. “Our hotel occupancy, at 86.8 percent, was very high compared with the rest of the Caribbean.” A total of 55 new hotel projects are in development around the country, he said.

The country’s tourism leaders are also partnering with investors to expand visitor access to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s historic capital city. The Zona Colonial district, the oldest permanent European settlement in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in the midst of a multi-million renovation of historic structures, streets and pedestrian areas.

Meanwhile several new hotels are planned for Santo Domingo’s downtown city center, following last year’s opening of the JW Marriott Santo Domingo.

“Santo Domingo’s hotel room base has grown by 10 percent within the past year,” said Martinez Aponte. “We also have two hotels that are still under construction, an Intercontinental hotel with 227 rooms that will be open in July, and the Hard Rock Santo Domingo hotel with more than 400 rooms, which will be the highest building in the city.”

The country is also nearing the end of a multi-year project that has added nearly 5,000 miles of new highways connecting Punta Cana with Santo Domingo and other resorts districts.

“At the end of this year all of the tourism areas will be inter-connected through a road network of the first quality,” added Martinez Aponte. “That will allow any tourist who is visiting Punta Cana to go to Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata and visit all of the tourism [regions] the country has to offer.”

The newly linked areas include Puerto Plata, where Carnival Corp. last year launched Amber Cove, an $85 million cruise port development, and Samana, a coastal region celebrated for its protected eco-tourism areas and whale-watching season between January and April.

Samana welcomed more than 400 new hotel rooms in 2015 including Viva Wyndham V Samana, said Asonahores officials. Meanwhile, Puerto Plata recorded an 11.5 percent year-over-year visitor increase in 2015, according to the group’s data. Puerto Plata operators have added or renovated 3,841 hotel rooms in the past year, said Suarez.

Amber Cove’s debut has re-focused attention on Puerto Plata, which was among the country’s primary tourist regions decades ago. The city is hosting an average of 5,000 visitors per week with the cruise port’s launch and the Dominican Republic government is currently renovating the city’s historic center and sites. “Puerto Plata is a destination that is renovating and will be important again,” Suarez said. 

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