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This year’s Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) conference showed the travel industry that the Dominican Republic is producing tourism destinations beyond its beaches.
The April gathering took place at Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center in Punta Cana, with vice minister of tourism Radhames Martinez Aponte in attendance. There, key tourism officials, travel companies and hotel executives expounded on the country’s push to position Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata as alternative travel destinations. Also discussed was the Dominican Republic’s place as a premier Caribbean destination, with Carnival Corporation & Plc’s new port scheduled to open in Puerto Plata in October.
“In 2014, there was a 9.6 percent growth in tourism in the Dominican Republic, vs. a 6.6 percent growth in the rest of the Caribbean,” Aponte said. “In the first three months of this year, there’s already been a 7.4 percent growth rate — one of the highest in the Caribbean this quarter.”
It’s forecasted that international tourism will grow 10 percent by the end of this year, thanks in large part to new destinations and efforts of travel organizations to provide both city and beachside options.
“It is a decision of the Dominican Republic government to realize all the projects and all the public policies that are needed to position our country as the No. 1 destination in not just the Caribbean, but also in Latin America,” Aponte said.
In past years, the seaside, urban city of Santo Domingo has been relegated to a second-tier tourism destination compared to the renowned beaches of Punta Cana. But with the introductions of JW Marriott and Embassy Suites hotels and the remodeling of Radisson Hotel Santo Domingo and Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel, the country’s capital has stepped up its game as a premier business and meetings destination.
JW Marriott Hotel Santo Domingo, opened last fall, is located on top of luxury shopping center Blue Mall. The high-end business hotel offers more than 2,938 square feet of state-of-the-art event space, in addition to a gourmet restaurant serving international cuisine.
“This places Santo Domingo as an attractive option from a business and convention standpoint,” said Simon Suarez, president of Asonahores, the Dominican Republic’s hotel and tourism association.
To the north, Carnival Corporation is expanding its Caribbean presence with an $85 million port in Puerto Plata, part of the country’s northern zone. Set to welcome Carnival Victory on Oct. 6, the new Amber Cove port will feature two berths, which will accommodate today’s largest cruise vessels.
Following the inaugural visit, five additional Carnival Corporation brands are scheduled to call on Amber Cove, with more than 250,000 passengers expected to arrive during the port’s first year of operation. Amenities at the port include a waterfront welcome center with retail and food offerings and a marketplace for Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a recreational center with a pool and green spaces.
Once considered the Dominican Republic’s premier travel cruise destination, the northern coast hasn’t welcomed a cruise ship for nearly 30 years. With the support of the country’s government, Amber Cove looks to reinvigorate the seaside region of Puerto Plata, including nearby cities Sosua, Cabarete and Luperon.