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This year's Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange took place at the Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center.
This year's Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange took place at the Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center. (Photo Credit: Ed Wetschler)

Why did I go out of my way to attend the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) this year? Because, as any travel agent who’s been in this business for more than two days knows, the Dominican Republic is the most powerful tourism magnet in the Caribbean. What’s more, this year both the public and private sectors are generating extraordinary growth. Let’s look at the big picture:

  • Over the past 10 years, the Dominican Republic’s tourism sector has expanded more than 5 percent annually, and during the first quarter of this year, it attracted 7.7 percent more than it had in the first quarter of 2017.
  • Although the U.S. and Canada remain the most important markets, the number of visitors from other countries in Europe and Latin America has been rising quickly. Sure, most resorts conform to North American tastes (whatever that means), but look around a large all-inclusive like the Bavaro Barcelo Palace Deluxe, and you’ll see some signs and forms in Russian.
  • Joel Santos, president of Asonahores, estimates that 80-85 percent of current hotel stock is at all-inclusive hotels. All told the D.R. has about 77,000 hotel rooms, 6,000 of which are being renovated, and there’ll soon be yet another 15,000 rooms, so you shouldn’t fret about failing to find space for your clients.
  • Santos points out that even the all-inclusives “have been going through a transformation” because their guests are more curious about the destination than they used to be. (Here’s an intriguing theory from one of the press conferences: that social media encourages visitors to be curious about the country they’re visiting because they want to post photos that are more compelling than a hotel pool.) At the same time, new EP-style luxury hotels are expanding the options for visitors to the D.R.
  • I was astonished to learn that this winter the Dominican Republic hosted its first official event on the world PGA tour. Why astonished? Because several of the country’s 25 or so championship golf courses are on the Western Hemisphere’s A-list, so what with all the Dye and Fazio and Trent Jones layouts, how on earth did the PGA tour not play here all those years?
  • Despite the presence of large international airports in Santo Domingo, Santiago, and multiple other cities, Punta Cana still gets 62 percent of total air traffic. However, tourism is finally expanding rapidly in other parts of the country, and soon you can expect to see the development of the south coast to the west of Santo Domingo, described by one speaker as “a very beautiful area, and still a virgin.” Well, yes.
  • A special nod here to Puerto Plata, which, lest we forget, was the country’s main tourism destination before Punta Cana expanded to a position of dominance. With a big assist from Carnival’s Amber Cove facility, “Puerto Plata contributes 43 percent to the growth of the cruise industry in 2017,” said Jose Natalio Redondo, president of Asonanorte. In fact, it has been such a success that “the bidding process has begun to build another port and cruise terminal.” The Puerto Plata Amphitheatre is attracting world-class performers, in May Puerto Plata will host PGA Latin America Tour golfers, and July 6-7 the D.R.’s first Dominican Rum Festival will debut. The 7th annual Discover Puerto Plata Marketplace will take place Oct. 3-5 to spotlight the region’s many new hotels and activities. (Click here for a look at a half dozen of Apple Vacations’ Puerto Plata hotels.)
  • Santo Domingo’s resurgence has been just as remarkable. More about that—and some exciting new hotels—in upcoming posts.