Written by  Lebawit Lily Girma

The 18th edition of the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) conference took place in May in Bávaro, Punta Cana. Organized by the Dominican Republic’s National Hotels and Tourism Association (ASONAHORES) and Ministry of Tourism, the country’s most important tourism fair saw an all time attendance high with a 26% jump in the number of registered delegates, including 1,000 more appointments than in 2016. This edition also celebrated Viva Wyndham Resorts’ three decades in the hotel industry.

The hallways of the Barceló Convention Center were particularly abuzz when Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina paid a first-ever visit to DATE - a symbolic nod to the country’s booming tourism industry. After inaugurating nearby Secrets Cap Cana, he greeted participants on the trade floor.
Tourism in the Dominican Republic is indeed on a “vertiginous ascent,” as Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier García said on the opening night of DATE.
Radhamés Martínez Aponte, Vice-Minister of Tourism, confirmed, “2016 was a record year in arrivals, with close to 6 million visitors to the Dominican Republic.” This boom reflects an 18% increase in the hotel occupancy rate. “There were 5,500 new hotel rooms added to the market, and to boot, close to 3,200 were renovated across the country. This is a record for the DR in recent history,” Aponte said.
( The DR now boasts the largest number of rooms in the Caribbean region, totaling 75,000, with 8,000 new rooms on the way.

Beyond The Beach
Though Punta Cana remains the crown jewel, PUJ saw an 18% jump the first quarter of 2017.DR tourism players agree: diversification is key to this continued record growth. As travelers increasingly seek authentic experiences outside resort walls, the commitment is to not crowd them but offer areas beyond Punta Cana to experience the country’s diverse regions, from cities to mountains.
“We are not just sand and sun,” said Joel Santos Echevarría, President of ASONAHORES. “The tourist comes not just to stay at the hotel but to tour. For example, 900,000 visitors visited Saona Island last year - this means 1 out of 6 visitors go there. Tourism areas are being developed that offer alternatives.”

A Capital Makeover
A booming Santo Domingo, cultural pulse of the DR, offers new activities, shops, and a rising gastronomy scene. The completed first phase renovation of its UNESCO-ranked Colonial City led to an increase of nearly half a million visitors to the capital in 2016. A second 90 million dollar remodeling phase is under way, as well as reconstruction of the city’s seaside Malecón boulevard, and completion of the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs Convention Center.
“Santo Domingo is experiencing its best times,” said Roberto HenrÌquez, President of the Santo Domingo Hotel Association (AHSD), announcing that AHSD filed a request with ASONAHORES to host DATE 2018 in the capital. “The city’s boom is undeniable in accommodation offerings, including 27 new hotels, five of which are international brands that will be located in the city center area known as the Polígono Central.” The five international hotels have yet to be named.

Puerto Plata’s Revival
The original birthplace of DR tourism is back in full swing. “We have crossed the threshold of recovery of Puerto Plata; it is in growth mode,” said Aponte. There are an additional 600 hotel rooms, with more under renovation. Carnival’s Amber Cove led to an increase to the tune of 830,000 cruise passengers in 2016. The Ministry of Tourism expects this number to surpass one million this year. A seafront amphitheater was also inaugurated - a promising sign for a city previously lacking a major entertainment venue.

Fancy Quarters
Luxury offerings for adults and families are multiplying. 2016 openings included CHIC Punta Cana, Hotel RIU Republic, and Nickelodeon Hotel & Resort Punta Cana. This year, Eden Roc Cap Cana, the only Relais & Chateaux in the DR, added a Beach Club and 26 two-bedroom beachfront, self-catering suites of nearly 2,000 sq. ft. each, boasting sweeping water views.
Secrets Cap Cana ( and Blue Beach Punta Cana  ( opened doors in May.
Hodelpa Hotels is expanding in 2017-2018 with five properties. Catering to luxury and business travelers are Casa Real (formerly Hotel Francés), Novus Plaza, and Urbano Smart Tech in Santo Domingo, and Hodelpa Garden Court in Bávaro. Adults-only Sensations will open in December in Juan Dolio.

Getting There and Around
Delta Vacations packages are all the rage. “We have had a banner year in Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic,” said Karen Kammer, Delta Vacations’ Director of Product Development. “The DR has taken over the number one position in ranking for the Caribbean region for Delta Vacations. Last year was our best in the Caribbean and in Punta Cana, and at this point we are also tracking well ahead of all the other destinations in the Caribbean in 2017.” This growth is due to expanding the romance product for agents and consumers, and a spike in the adults only segment. Airlift was increased 6% from JFK.
Named TripAdvisor’s best low cost carrier and World Top Ten Airline for 2016, jetBlue plans to keep growing with the DR. “We serve 2.5 million passengers a year thus far, and we have presence at five of the country’s main airports: SDQ, STI, PUJ, POP, LRM, for a total of 16 routes; 36 daily flights from the USA, and 23 from JFK daily,” said Elizabeth Ninomiya, jetBlue Manager of Corporate Communications in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Gray Line announced eight new tour packages for wholesalers and travel agents whose customers wish to see the country beyond Punta Cana. Five circuits depart from Santo Domingo, and two from Punta Cana, taking travelers north towards Jarabacoa, Puerto Plata, and Samaná, southwest to the Barahona region, or on a 10-day “Treasure of the Caribbean” journey south to north.
The DR maintains a policy of airline flexibility; 46 nationalities can now travel to the DR without a visa other than a tourist card. “We are working on filling only one form when arriving in the DR - if we achieve that, it will be big leap,” said Aponte.


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