Dominican Republic Seeks to Extend Tourism Growth Beyond Punta Cana Core
PHOTO: Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone features Calle Las Damas, described as the first paved street in the Americas. (photo by Brian Major)
Having already achieved number one status among Caribbean tourism destinations, Dominican Republic officials are partnering with private investors and hoteliers to expand visitor access and appeal to areas beyond the staple Punta Cana resort district.
“Dominican Tourism has been a source of stimulus,” said Simon Suarez, president of Asonahores, the Dominican Republic’s hotel and tourism association. “It has begun to be manifest in very robust investments in the tourism sector as it relates to infrastructure as well as the hotel industry,” he said.
Speaking Wednesday at the Dominican Annual Travel Exchange (DATE) conference in Punta Cana, Suarez said 60 percent of the 5.1 million travelers who visited the country in 2014 arrived in Punta Cana. Officials are seeking to draw visitors to other regions, in particular the historic capital city of Santo Domingo, where the government is nearly finished with a multi-million dollar renovation of Colonial Zone infrastructure and historic sites.
Suarez said a “wave of investment” from hotel companies includes 1,013 recently built hotel rooms, mostly in Santo Domingo. The 150-room Embassy Suites by Hilton Santo Domingo opened in June 2014. The JW Marriott Hotel Santo Domingo, which incorporates the high-end Blue Mall shopping center, also opened last year. The newly renovated Sheraton Santo Domingo also launched in 2014.
“International brands are acknowledging the importance of this market,” Suarez said. “We are very optimistic that this process will continue and we are anticipating that 2,000 additional rooms will be announced during the course of 2015.”
Dominican officials are seeking to position Santo Domingo as a draw for travelers interested in history, culture, and shopping, with attractions that include the oldest paved street in the Americas. The completion of an expressway between Punta Cana and Santo Domingo cut the drive time between the regions from four to just under two hours and is viewed as instrumental to drawing travelers to the historic city.
“The remodeling of the colonial city will be completed by June,” said Radames Martinez-Aponte, the country’s vice minister of tourism. “This will contribute to the creation of services through which tourists will be able to go from Punta Cana, through our new road, to our historic colonial city.” The Colonial Zone also features boutique hotels that “enrich our hotel offerings,” said Martinez-Aponte.
Other regions of the country are also experiencing tourism growth. Delta Vacations officials at DATE said booked Dominican Republic room nights are up by more than 20 percent in 2015, propelled by growth in Punta Cana and La Romana.
The company also reports growing interest in the Samana region, with booked room nights to that region up by “nearly triple digits” year-over-year. In addition, Delta’s Vacations’ 2016 Dominican Republic bookings are up more than 80 percent versus 2015.
Delta Vacations hospitality partners including AMResorts, Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts, Barcelo Hotels and Resorts, Iberostar Hotels and Resorts and RIU Hotels and Resorts are “strategically invested in the Dominican Republic and work closely with Delta Vacations to deliver positive revenue increases year-over-year,” officials said in a statement.
Establishing Santo Domingo as a key Dominican tourist destination should provide another channel to expand the country’s already surging visitor arrivals.
Dominican Republic tourist arrivals grew 9.6 percent in 2014, exceeding the Caribbean’s 6.6 percent growth during the same period and representing “a historic growth record,” said Martinez-Aponte. The increase represents an additional 450,000 visitors over 2013.
“This year we might not experience a 10 percent growth, because that is a very healthy rate,” Martinez-Aponte said. “But the first quarter of this year makes us optimistic. In the past three months we have been growing at a 7.4 percent rate, one of the highest in the Caribbean. These levels of activity reflect our public policy and the efforts of the private sector to reach new tourists.”
He added, “We have seen a high level of investment in the tourism sector. We aspire to be the number one destination not only in the Caribbean but all of Latin America.”
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