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The 2016 Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) conference, held April 19-21 at Paradisus Palma Real Resort, expanded upon last year’s agenda that highlighted tourism destinations beyond the typical Punta Cana mega-resorts.
At the event, Radhames Martinez-Aponte, the country’s vice minister of tourism, told journalists that the Dominican Republic as a destination has grown at an annual rate of about 5.8 percent over the last six years, compared to 3.7 percent growth for the Caribbean overall. Punta Cana is still the country’s bread and butter, he said, holding about 37,000 of the country’s 70,000 hotel rooms and an airport that welcomes about two-thirds of all international visitors to the island.
“If Punta Cana is doing well, the country is doing well,” he joked.
Beyond Punta Cana’s success, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and Samana are developing at fast rates and attracting visitors just as quickly.
Santo Domingo, the island’s capital city, is becoming more popular for incentive groups, according to Martinez-Aponte, as hotel rooms have grown at an annual rate of about 10 percent. In July, a 270-room InterContinental hotel will open, with the about-400-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Santo Domingo to follow in late 2017. This will be the second all-inclusive Hard Rock property on the island and will be composed of a 23,000-square-foot casino, a screening room and a nightclub that opens up to the main pool.
Less than a half hour east of Santo Domingo’s airport, Juan Dolio is another beach area attracting visitors, with two new properties from local Hodelpa Hotels. Emotions by Hodelpa recently debuted, featuring an emphasis on quality food in dining venues such as Pitahaya, which showcases an organic-food menu, and Bigaro, which serves up grilled lobster. The adults-only Sensations by Hodelpa is projected to open in October 2017, with a similar focus on gastronomy.
Puerto Plata has increased its number of visitors by more than 11.5 percent since 2015, largely because of Carnival Corporation & Plc’s new Amber Cove cruise port, which welcomed 550,000 passengers last year. This year’s numbers are projected to greatly surpass that, with 309,000 arrivals in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Plus, an expansion of the city’s historic center, as well as the debut of a new tourist newspaper and website, make Puerto Plata more accessible for visitors.
Lorenzo Sancassani, director of tourism for Puerto Plata, credited the international promotion that the ministry of tourism has given to Puerto Plata as a major reason for visitor growth and the interest of major international hotel chains looking to settle in the area. Viva Wyndham V Heavens and AMResorts, for instance, recently began operations in Playa Dorada. Visitors can also expect construction of a new 7,000-seat amphitheater in la Puntilla del Malecon, set to launch this year.
Development on the Samana Peninsula — a vacation destination popular with locals that’s starting to gain traction internationally — is also on the rise. Viva Wyndham V Samana and Luxury Bahia Principe Samana brought more than 400 hotel rooms to the Samana Peninsula in 2015, and about 2,000 hotel rooms are under construction and slated for debut in the next few years, including resorts such as Amanera, Gansevoort and Four Seasons.
Travel to and from these three parts of the island is also easier than ever, with some 5,000 miles of highways built on the island in the past three to four years. Plus, in May 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will add preclearance operations in Punta Cana’s airport, allowing travelers returning from the Dominican Republic to avoid the customs-and-immigration line when their flight lands in the U.S.