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The 12th edition of the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) was held April 27-29, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. Attendance was at an all-time high, with 354 suppliers and 176 buyers weighing in to make the most of nearly 3,000 pre-scheduled appointments. The DATE is organized by the Dominican Republic National Hotel & Restaurant Association (ASONAHORES) with the support of the Ministry of Tourism.
During the association’s press conference, Radhames Martinez Aponte, the Dominican Republic’s vice minister of tourism, noted that even in the face of a global economic crisis, the country saw a 3.3 percent growth in arrivals last year. The Dominican Republic received more than 4 million visitors in 2010, a new record for the Dominican Republic, and a 3 percent increase over 2009. The U.S. remains the country’s largest market with more than one million arrivals for the sixth consecutive year. Aponte also observed that average spending and tourism investment is up.
The most popular destination in the Dominican Republic for visitors continues to be Punta Cana on the East Coast, as its international airport received 57 percent of all arrivals in 2010. On the other hand, one resort area is lagging behind — Puerto Plata, on the island’s north shore.
“We haven’t been able to recapture Puerto Plata, but we are working on achieving past levels of quality for resorts,” said Aponte.
Last year, Palace Resorts and Hard Rock International partnered to transform and rebrand the former Moon Palace Casino Golf & Spa Resort as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. At 1,791 rooms and suites, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is a huge resort, more than capable of handling a large event like the DATE without sacrificing services to its leisure guests.“The demand from overseas and international markets has been more than we expected,” said Frank Maduro, marketing director for Palace Resorts. “Our biggest challenge has not been occupancy — it’s been the lack of air capacity and the cost of airfare. This summer, we’re seeing tickets priced at over $1,000 from the U.S. This is a challenge for travelers — when your airfare is more than your hotel.”
Maduro called on the Dominican Republic government to find a way to ease the situation.
The Punta Cana property is the only all-inclusive Hard Rock resort. An additional reason to book is the free monthly concerts held at the resort, which are open to all guests as part of the all-inclusive package. During the DATE, rock band Survivor (most famous for the song, “Eye of the Tiger”) performed a show that was open to DATE attendees and hotel guests. Musical acts of similar caliber will perform throughout the year. Another guest perk is the Hard Rock Punta Cana’s $1,500 resort credit, which can be spent in a variety of ways, including room upgrades, tours, spa and beauty salon treatments, golf outings and the resort’s Precious Wedding Collection.
DATE attendees also got an advance peek at two new all-inclusive properties by AMResorts: Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana (formerly NH Royal Beach), which officially debuted on May 1, and Now Larimar Punta Cana (formerly NH Real Arena). AMResorts will now oversee the sales and marketing initiatives for both resorts, while NH Hoteles continues operational control. The two resorts share a full-service spa and a 9,040-square-foot convention center.
The 373-room Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana is an adults-only resort situated on 700 yards of white-sand beach. Guests can enjoy reciprocal dining privileges at Now Larimar Punta Cana, expanding their dining options to include 10 restaurants and 14 bars. A nice touch — all rooms have a Jacuzzi on the terrace.
The introduction of Now Larimar Punta Cana represents the brand’s entree into the Caribbean. The family-friendly resort has 642 rooms and suites, as well as signature amenities such as a bowling center and an open-air nightclub and lounge with a swimming pool.
AMResorts is offering limited-time introductory rates for summer and fall travel, per person, based on double occupancy. Guests can stay at Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana for $139 in the summer and $149 in the fall. Now Larimar Punta Cana has attractive rates of $99 for the summer and $89, plus a kids-stay-free special, for the fall.
The Next Big Thing
While Punta Cana is still refining its tourism product at a furious pace, with new resorts regularly added to the pipeline, it’s clear that the relatively undeveloped region of Samana is the Dominican Republic’s next big thing. The Samana Peninsula is more lush and green than Punta Cana — a common observation is that it has 6 million palm trees and 110,000 people. The Bay of Samana is also considered the best in the country for observing humpback whales during the January to March migrating season.
Samana El Catey International Airport presently receives commercial flights from Canada and Europe. The region hopes to have scheduled commercial flights from the U.S. in 2011. While still in the early stages, there are presently talks with American Eagle and JetBlue, flying from JFK, to fly directly into Samana.
Samana currently has 3,500 rooms; it’s predicted that in three to five years this figure will jump to 5,500 rooms. Three upscale Samana resorts to keep an eye on are Balcones del Atlantico, El Portillo Beach Club & Spa and Viva Wyndham Samana Resort.During a press presentation for Delta Vacations, Alison Buckneberg, public relations specialist with MLT Vacations, noted that Delta Vacations now works with more than 60 resorts and hotels in Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. When asked about providing services in Samana, Buckneberg replied, “We’re keeping our eyes on growth and we’re very excited about opportunities in the Dominican Republic.”