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Source: Travel Pulse

The Caribbean’s top-drawing destination is poised to shatter previously set visitor arrival records in 2019. The Dominican Republic posted increased arrivals and hotel occupancy in each of the first three months of the year, said Francisco Javier García, the country’s tourism minister, in an address to conference attendees at last week’s Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) conference in Punta Cana.

While the nation may not achieve President Danilo Medina’s earlier prediction of 10 million annual visitors by the end of the decade, it’s clear the Dominican Republic is at the forefront of Caribbean leisure destinations.

The Dominican Republic hosts 20 percent of all Caribbean arrivals, said Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism officials. Visitor arrivals to the country reached 6.5 million in 2018, a 6.2 percent increase over 2017. The increase exceeds the average annual global tourism growth rate of six percent, Ministry officials said.

This year, the Dominican Republic hosted 604,977 travelers in January and February, an eight percent increase over the same two months in 2018. Sixty-five percent of the January and February arrivals originated in North America, officials said.

The destination is clearly a winner Caribbean travel sellers. “Having been to the DR multiple times, there is so much to explore, see and do,” said Janet Ohlig, a Dallas, Texas-based home-based agent.

“The beaches are amazing, the people are genuine and incredibly grateful for tourism and the cultural experiences are amazing,” she added. “It’s a destination that is easy to get to, language is not a problem but repeat trips are a must to explore the entire DR.”

Hotel Haven

The Dominican Republic’s robust visitor growth is tied in large measure to a booming hotel and resort sector that features a diverse and deep collection of properties, including the Caribbean’s premiere selection of all-inclusive resorts.

Dominican Republic hotels achieved a 77 percent hotel occupancy rate in 2018, said Ministry officials at DATE, a 0.5 percent increase over 2017. Hotel capacity increased six percent growth in 2018, with 4,365 rooms added in regions around the country.

Sixty-five projects have been approved through 2019, said officials at AsonAhores, the Dominican Republic Hotels and Tourism Association. The country currently has 80,256 hotel rooms and will add 11 new properties between 2019 and 2022.

Several new resorts opened across late 2018 and early 2019, including the Grand Memories Splash and Grand Memories Punta Cana properties, which launched in November. The resorts replace the former Memories Splash property. Palladium Hotel Group’s adults-only TRS Cap Cana Hotel debuted in November in Punta Cana’s Cap Cana district.

Meliá Hotels International’s Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real, which opened in January, features luxury amenities and is the brand’s third Dominican Republic property. Another all-inclusive resort, the Grand Sirenis Punta Cana, re-opened in March, following a $30 million dollar renovation.

Late last year, the adults-only, all-inclusive Sanctuary Cap Cana resort completed a $35 million modernization that includes furnished balconies or terraces on all suites and villas.

Meanwhile, the revamped adults-only Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar opened March 29 in Punta, following a $26 million renovation. Club Med’s $100 million Michès Playa Esmeralda resort will welcome its first guests on November 30.

Several new properties are in the works as well. Last November, Palace Resorts broke ground on a $600 million all-inclusive Moon Palace Punta Cana resort in the district’s Macao area. The property is scheduled to open in 2021.

Side-by-side all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva resorts are under construction in Punta Cana’s Cap Cana district. The adjacent 375-room, adults-only and family friendly resorts will debut in late 2019 on 40 acres of oceanfront property.

Cruise Control

The Dominican Republic has also experienced success on the cruise front, with recent government partnership and investments in port infrastructure paying off in increased passenger arrivals.

The country hosted 1,357,200 passengers at its four cruise ports in 2018 said Ministry officials, an increase of more than 157,000 compared to 2017. Amber Cove in Puerto Plata, which re-opened in 2015 following a multi-million dollar redevelopment, has sparked the cruise sector’s growth and has emerged as the country’s chief cruise port.

Spreading Out

Government and tourism leaders have positioned the Dominican Republic’s future arrivals growth as tied to regions beyond the all-inclusive properties of the Punta Cana resort district.

The historic capital city of Santo Domingo, in the midst of the second phase of a sweeping renovation project, along with the Samana and Puerto Plata regions, offer historic, cultural and natural attractions that add to the Dominican Republic’s diversity.

Santo Domingo’s city council is following up the historic district’s renovation with a plan to open the city’s Malecon (seafront walkway) with a bike path, viewing platform, recreation areas with hammocks and swings and LED lighting and access for individuals with disabilities.

The revamped district will “attract a large number of national and international visitors who enjoy a cultural and activity agenda in the oldest city of the American continent,” said Roberto Henriquez, president of the Association of the Hotels of Santo Domingo.

“Statistics show tourists are craving diversified experiences that span beyond beaches and showcase that multi-destination cultural travel is becoming more popular than in years past,” said Paola Rainieri de Díaz, AsonAhores’ president.

Díaz said 80 percent of all tourist visits were to protected areas throughout [the] Dominican Republic in 2018, indicating visitors are increasingly looking to explore beyond their hotel.

Ministry officials say the regions are more accessible following the completion of building, renovation and expansion projects covering nearly 5,000 miles of within the past four years have connected the country’s major tourist areas, with each within a two-hour drive.