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Over the last couple of years, strategic partnerships have become an important component of any modern business strategy. The Dominican Republic is a good example of how a destination can leverage partnerships in boosting its tourism offerings to the next level. At the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange 2013 (DATE), held April 23-25 at the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort in Punta Cana and organized by the National Hotel and Tourism Association of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES), exciting new partnerships were announced. These new initiatives point the way toward the D.R., boosting its already impressive tourism standing in the Caribbean.
JetBlue has shown confidence in the D.R. market with its announcement of two new flights. On May 1, JetBlue will begin flying from San Juan into Santiago and Punta Cana. Jessica Banchs, manager of international sales for JetBlue, noted that the carrier will be developing San Juan as a hub for the Caribbean region.
Island Routes Caribbean Adventures had an informal presence at DATE but made their share of news. David Shields, general manager of Island Routes Caribbean Adventures, shared that come September, the award-winning tour operator will be offering tours in Punta Cana, Samana and La Romana. This is a big step for the company, setting up shop in a Spanish-speaking island that doesn’t contain a Sandals Resorts property. The CEO of Sandals is Adam Stewart, who is also the CEO of Island Routes. While the companies are separate entities, up until now there has been a seamless synergy between the two. From the outset, Stewart has been on record saying that Island Routes would venture into destinations where Sandals didn’t have properties. Island Routes is also looking at St. Maarten and Aruba, and opened up shop in Grenada last month, where Sandals will debut the Sandals LaSource Grenada in December.
During the conference, MLT’s Delta Vacations and United Vacations brands announced that they were adding three new adults-only resorts in Samana, an up-and-coming destination on the north coast that was recently bolstered by direct JetBlue service from JFK. The three resorts, operated by Bahia Principe, are the Grand Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado; Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa; and the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo. The three resorts are all-inclusive, which is a rarity in Samana, where the majority of resorts are EP-style properties.
“We’re excited to add Samana to our product offering which already includes 59 resorts in the D.R.,” said Karen Kammer, director, product development Caribbean. “Samana is home to a Humpback whale sanctuary which is the type of travel experience that creates lifelong memories.”
MLT Vacations already offers the D.R. destinations of Santo Domingo, La Romana, Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. MLT Vacations offers 38 hotels in Punta Cana and Kammer noted that business had grown eight-fold for MLT in Punta Cana since 2009.
Venerable tour operator Gray Line also announced it was entering the D.R. The tour operator will offer single and multi-day tours and airport transportation. The Gray Line Dominican Republic’s head office will be in Punta Cana.
The Dominican Republic posted notable tourism numbers in 2012.
“Even though the economic crisis of 2008 is still having its effect, in 2012 we saw the arrival of 6 million tourists, which accounted for a growth rate of 4.95 percent over 2011,” said Radames Martinez-Aponte, vice-minister, Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.
The Ministry has allocated a marketing budget of $13.3 million for 2013 in a bid to reach its ambitious goal of attracting 10 million visitors per year by 2023. While the U.S. is still the number one market for the D.R., Russia is climbing in the ranks, with 164,000 Russians visiting the destination in 2012.
In order to reach a goal of 10 million visitors, the D.R. will push to restore the north coast port city of Puerto Plata to its former prominence as a vacation destination. Over the years, Puerto Plata has languished in the shadow of Punta Cana’s dominance as a magnet for leisure visitors. The Ministry will allocate 2.5 million to re-launch Puerto Plata with plans to promote the city’s culture and colonial heritage. In October, the city will also launch the Discover Puerto Plata tradeshow.
The beachfront Westin Puntacana is on track to open on Dec. 20 and will begin taking reservations on May 15. The hotel is a five-minute drive from the Punta Cana International Airport and will target both the corporate and leisure traveler. The 400-room, four-story Starwood EP property offers ocean views from all its rooms. The hotel will have a 24-hour business center, a cigar bar and a Six Senses Spa. Active travelers have the option of exercising in the Westin Workout gym or taking advantage of a number of active pursuits, from golf to catamaran cruises.
Toronto-based Blue Diamond Hotels and Resorts is poised to enter the Punta Cana market with two all-inclusive resorts. The 470-room Royalton Punta Cana Resort & Casino and the 525-room Memories Splash Punta Cana will open on Nov. 9. The two family-friendly resorts are situated adjacent to each other. Memories will have a water park with a wave pool, slides and a variety of other pools.
“Memories Splash Punta Cana is a big draw with families,” said Todd Kirlick, director of sales and marketing for the U.S. and Canada for Blue Diamond Hotels & Resorts. “The water park is an interactive experience with enough variety that families could spend a whole day there.”
Free Wi-Fi access, 11 restaurants and 24-hour room service round out the offerings at the two Blue Diamond properties. There is also a stay at one, play at two option for guests staying at either of the resorts.
In other news from DATE, the Sheraton brand announced that is returning to Santo Domingo’s malecon in December. The 225-room property was built 35 years ago as a Sheraton. For the last 15 years, it has operated as The Melia Santo Domingo. A $6 million renovation is in the works, with special attention being paid to the lobby, rooms and fitness center.
National Hotel and Tourism Association of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES)www.asonahores.com
Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourismwww.godominicanrepublic.com