SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Tourism industry executives at this year's Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) conference announced several developments to the future of the country and expressed great enthusiasm for the projects to come.
Radhamés Martínez-Aponte, technical vice minister of tourism, opened the event with a number of updates pertaining to Dominican Republic's overall tourism health and news in each major sector within the country.
Dominican Republic announced a growth of 5.8 percent in overall tourism to Dominican Republic, a number alone growing faster than the Caribbean's overall rate of 3.7 percent. Simón Suarez, president of the National Hotel & Tourism Association (ASONAHORES), added that growth rates in the country are double the world average, tracking at a median growth of 5.1 percent over the last five years.
The country is projected to reach six million total visitors in 2016 – based on numbers thus far, the country is on track to meet the targeted 7 percent growth needed to achieve this. Both speakers also noted that the United States remains the largest source market for Dominican tourism with two million visitors in 2015, and Canada following with 780,000.
Dominican Republic's hotel occupancy rate was also greater than that of overall Caribbean numbers, with 75.5 percent of hotel rooms occupied in 2015 and an expected average of 80 percent in 2016. Punta Cana leads accommodations in Dominican Republic, currently offering 37,000 rooms in the area.
Its lead is followed by Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo, boasting 18 percent and 10 percent of rooms available in-country, respectively. Dominican Republic is pleased to see an increase in interest of hotel chains coming to the country and reports a boom in both the development of new properties – such as those by Barceló, Intercontinental and Hard Rock – as well as in remodeling and expansion projects, such as those occurring at Santo Domingo's historic Hotel El Embajador.
By 2019, it is expected that 18,000 new hotel rooms will open in the country, thanks to more than 55 new hotel projects and investments worth $2 billion coming into the tourism pipeline.
Officials announced that plans are underway to offer preclearance facilities at Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) for U.S. travelers returning from Dominican Republic to allow a bypass of US customs after their return to the States, slated to begin in May 2017. PUJ continues to be the main point of entry into Dominican Republic – welcoming 66 percent of travelers – followed by Santo Domingo's Las Americas International Airport (SDQ) and Puerto Plata's Gregorio Luperón International Airport (POP). Together, the three airports represent 92 percent of foreign air travel into DR.
Dominican Republic currently has an open-sky policy, allowing for a large influx of flights – nine nationalities do not require a tourist visa, while 145 others (including the US and Canada) need only to purchase a tourist card upon landing. It is the country's dream to eliminate the need for visas entirely and allow all to freely enjoy the variety of attractions offered in the country.
With Amber Cove in Puerto Plata opening in 2015, cruise arrivals increased by 64 percent, coming in at 550,000 visitors. Since Amber Cove's inauguration, an average of 5,000 cruise visitors arrive weekly to the area, shifting by season. The country plans to expand its cruise market beginning in December 2016 in Cap Cana, signing contracts with 11 providers and continuing discussion with six others.
Diversification of Offerings
Numbers show that tourists are continuing to look for vacations beyond the beach and are showing greater interest in multi-destination travel – 80 percent of all visits to Dominican Republic's protected areas are by foreigners, demonstrating that visitors are increasingly looking to explore beyond their hotel.
MITUR is committed to expanding the country's multi-destination offerings and diversifying its segmentation. With more than 8,000 kilometers of roads created or expanded within the past three years, all major touristic areas are now connected and most are accessible within a two-hour drive.
With opportunities for a wide range of tourism on the same island, Dominican Republic continues to hold a large advantage over other destinations and is positioned to expand the diversity of its offerings, with MICE, ecotourism and luxury travel among the largest niches of focus for the coming year.
While sun and beach remain the country's most sought attractions, Dominican Republic continues to work to expand its competitive offerings in the tourism marketplace. Between adventurous Puerto Plata, lush Samaná, sunny Punta Cana, luxe La Romana, historic Santo Domingo and more, the country prides itself on offering something for every type of traveler and budget.
This year's DATE conference was held from April 19-21 in Punta Cana.