By Denise Mattia
The Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE 2015) opened at the end of April with a high-energy evening gala at the Barceló Hotel and Resort in Punta Cana. In the large banquet hall, general managers, tourism directors and proprietors of Dominican Republic properties mingled and networked with colleagues and travel-trade personnel. On the stage, executives from Banco Popular thanked the Hotel and Tourism Association (ASONAHORES), the Ministery of Tourism (MITUR) of the Dominican Republic and the general managers from the Barceló Hotel and Resorts for their sponsorship. Honored that evening was Rosalinda Thomas, known throughout the industry as the first woman president of the Dominican Association of Travel Agencies (ADAVIT). Her work for the development of tourism in the country began in the early 80s.
Although conducted entirely in Spanish that evening, conversations with the Dominican spokespeople on the floor of the tourist fair the following morning included English as well, and the international press was provided with excellent translations during their conferences.
CICOM President, Manuel Quiterio Cedeno, whose passion for his country set the stage for the proceeding discussions, introduced Simon Suarez, the President of Dominican Republic’s Hotel and Tourism Association (ASONAHORES) and Vice Minister Martinez Aponte to the members of the press. Both men announced proudly that the positive trend of foreign visitors to the Dominican Republic over the last four years reached its peak in 2014 when new arrivals increased by 450,000. Vice Minister Aponte added that the Dominican Republic had reached “a hefty growth of 7.4% in the last three months.” The increase was due to investments by the public and private sectors (4,500 new rooms will be ready by 2016-17) and infrastructure projects (the DR 7 Samana Highway is complete and the country’s eastern, southwest region and Santo Domingo road systems have been upgraded). Additionally, advertising played an important role in the growth of the Dominican Republic.
Michael Schmeltzer, President of American Airlines Vacations addressed the press by announcing the merger of American Airlines Vacations and US Airways Vacations, “bringing together the features that customers, travel agents and vendors value most.” “This is exciting news for customers wishing to travel to more than 400 worldwide destinations,” he said, “with more packages available to destinations in the Dominican Republic like Punta Cana, La Romana, Puerto Plata, Santiago and Santo Domingo.” The premier airline vacations program will provide greater benefits for travel agents as well (visit aavacations.com/agent).
Also discussed at the press conferences was news about current and near future plans for hotels in the Dominican Republic: The CHIC Hotel is the new addition to Punta Cana and Club Mediterranee announced a partnership with the Cirque du Soleil company. In Sosua, the Casa Marina Beach & Reef will invest $5 million in renovations, and in Samana the Amhsa Marina Hotel will begin its $20 million-140 room construction. A special health section in Santiago was created at the Hotel Hodelpa Garden Court. To the south, The Dreams La Romana hotel added an adults-only section.
Jax Fax and several colleagues had had an opportunity to tour Santo Domingo during their stay before DATE 2015.
One afternoon we stopped at the fashionable Blue Mall and toured the adjacent JW Marriott Hotel . Opened in August 2014, the $50 million hotel awes visitors with the views of the city from the elegantly appointed sixth floor reception and indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar lounge 101 feet above the entrance. “Locals and guests come here to see and be seen,” said WJ Marriott’s Sales Executive, Jean Louis Haché. Other new upscale hotels in the city are the Embassy Suites by Hilton (Hilton.com) and the historic Boutique Billini Hotel (billini.com), while two residences of the Casas del XVI (casasdelxvi.com) have been transformed into luxury tourist facilities.
One tour of Santo Domingo conducted by the Minister of Tourism, Carlos Batista, included the city’s history and development, followed by another of the Colonial City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (colonialzone-dr.com) by freelancer, Miguel Colon. Miguel walked us through historical castles, chapels, the promenade of Calle del Cande and included the fun-filled Colonial Gate 4D cinema. Later, taking advantage of the cool evening, we walked through well-lit streets. The Colonial Zone is both charming and safe.
Following the close of DATE 2015, our group boarded a military plane, a CASA 212-400, bound for the growing destination of the North Coast’s Puerto Plata. We were thrilled at being able to watch and talk with the captain, co-pilot the technician while they flew the turbojet.
Our first site inspection in Puerto Plata was the $90 million Carnival cruise ship port at Amber Cove. By October 2015 the port will begin welcoming AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line and P&O Cruises (UK). Later, site inspections included the luxurious Casa Colonial Boutique that boasts a Robert Trent Jones 18-hole designer golf course and the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Tangerine in Cabarete.
No visit to the region is complete without rum, and the Ron Brugal Factory provides tastings and sells the strong brew (prices start at $5). At the top of Mount Isabel a tropical garden surrounds a replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. A funicular transports guests 2500 feet above sea level for 200 pesos (about $8) and offers an unforgettable panoramic view of the region.
The luxurious new and renovated resorts also offer innumerable land and sea activities to guests, making the Dominican Republic a highly desirable destination.
Water adventures was published in http://www.tripwich.com/water-adventures-in-the-dominican-republic/ and an earlier version of this article was published in JAX FAX TRAVEL MARKETING MAGAZINE, July/August 2015 issue and the online version, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0zD8Ouw737KVXo5Z0FsMG1TME0/view
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.