Santo Domingo, DN Dominican Republic (PressExposure) April 25, 2013 -- The 14th edition of DATE (Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange) - the nation's foremost tourism fair -- was held April 23-25 at the Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center in Punta Cana.
The event was organized jointly by the National Hotel & Tourism Association (Asonahores), the Tourism Promotion Council (CPT) and the Ministry of Tourism (MITUR), with the support of various corporate cosponsors.
According to the organizers, this year's fair was a resounding success, with over 3,500 pre-arranged one-on-one business meetings between buyers and sellers, in addition to hundreds of unscheduled negotiations. This is a considerable increase over the previous year. The event drew more than 670 delegates, 130 exhibitors, 120 tour operators and over 100 journalists, both foreign and local.
The social highlight of the fair was a Caribbean party at the extravagant 1,700-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Exceptional Performance in 2012
The success of DATE 2013 is clearly a reflection of the nation's vigorous tourism industry. In his opening speech, the Minister of Tourism pointed out that 2012 had been an outstanding year for the industry despite the persistence of the global crisis.
Travel patterns have changed. Hotel occupancy levels improved over 2011, but average tourist spending dropped. Stayover tourist arrivals grew by 6% to 4.6 million and industry revenues hit a record US$4.5 billion. The tourist count was the highest in the Caribbean (followed by Cuba and Jamaica with a distant 2.8 million and 1.7 million) while the growth rate was double the regional average of 3%.
The Ministry of Tourism attributes the increase primarily to a re-channeling of tourist traffic. The financial crisis has prompted tourists from the affected economies to travel closer to home. This is most evident in the case of United States, whose visitors posted the highest growth rate and already account for about 60% of all tourist arrivals.
Other factors have been the increase in airlift capacity, alliances with North American tour operators, Jet Blue's move to take over and increase frequencies in routes vacated by American Airlines, new air service including a Brazil - Punta Cana - Miami route by a Brazilian airline, the arrival of new international hotel franchises, the massive infrastructure program being carried out by the government (particularly roadwork linking tourist regions and the revitalization of Santo Domingo's Colonial Zone), and a higher promotional effort fueled by the highest budget ever allocated to the Ministry of Tourism by the Dominican government.
There is no doubt that the private sector has embraced President Danilo Medina's goal of 10 million tourist arrivals in the next 10 years. The President of the hotel association, moreover, proposed as complementary goals a boost of one more dollar in average tourist expenditures and one more day in average length of stay. He also pointed out that additional momentum must be given to the development of tourist attractions such as theme parks in support of existing and future lodging facilities.
Courting non-Traditional Markets
A significant achievement has been the emergence of Russian tourism. With 10 weekly flights from that nation and 164,000 arrivals, Russians ended 2012 in fifth place among source markets, but by March 2013 they have already overtaken the Germans and firmly secured a fourth place, surpassed only by the U.S., Canada and France.
The tourism authorities are now betting on the Chinese market. Although there is much public skepticism as to whether this will ever come about, the Tourism Ministry doesn't harbor any doubts, pointing out that some regions of Russia are just as far as China yet that nation has already gained a pivotal spot as a source market.
So determined is the government to capture the Chinese market that it has already reached an agreement with that nation's government whereby the DR is to be designated as an authorized travel destination for its citizens.
In preparation for what MITUR expects will be a Chinese tsunami, it is launching a mandarin language publication in joint venture with the CICOM media group and a university-level program to teach mandarin to hotel management students, among other measures.
The Caribbean's most Sought-After Destination
Underscoring the nation's popularity as a tourist haven, Expedia, one of the world's largest online travel agencies, announced that demand for Dominican Republic travel products grew by 24% last year with over 380,000 room nights sold, compared to the year before. According to the company, the country is a key destination in the Caribbean, with the U.S. being its main source market.
Other online travel portals as well and print magazines (including Travel World News and Recommend) attended the event or exhibited at the fair.
Moreover, Denver-based GrayLine, the world's oldest and largest sightseeing group, announced the start of operations in the Dominican Republic with a main office in Punta Cana already operational, soon to be followed by a second office in the capital. Its new tour operator and destination management company GrayLine Dominican Republic will offer a full range of travel services.
Lenders Connect with Borrowers
Some of the country's main commercial banks including Popular, BHD and Scotiabank were cosponsors and exhibitors at the event.
Banco Popular, the nation's leading commercial lender, revealed that they held 20 one-to-one meetings all aimed on financing the construction of new hotels and resorts, renovations and expansions of existing properties.
In the words of its hotel industry VP, "For us the trade fair was a complete success; we have had back to back meetings practically every hour for two and a half days. Every year the event is improving in quantity as well as quality."
Hotel Scene Bustling with Activity
In the hospitality sector, Sheraton announced its return to the DR with the re-branding of the Melia as the Santo Domingo Sheraton.
Earlier this month the Intercontinental Quinto Centenario became the Crowne Plaza Santo Domingo. Both properties are strategically located on the capital city's ocean boulevard. And a Marriott is under construction in the city's most upscale district.
On the East Coast, the up-and-coming Canadian chain Blue Diamond Hotels & Resorts showcased its new brands Memories Splash and Royalton, embodied in a pair of resorts totaling 1,005 rooms, scheduled for opening this November in Punta Cana.
The 5-star, 204-room Westin Punta Cana, presently under construction and slated to open in December 2013, offered participants a tour of their model suites. The property is the result of a strategic partnership between the Punta Cana Group and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, one of the world's leading hotel and leisure companies with over 1,000 properties in 100 countries.
Casa de Campo announced changes to its corporate image, logo and slogan. The previous "Most Complete Resort in the Caribbean" changes to "The Sporting Life", highlighting its exclusive and dynamic sports lifestyle which includes 5 golf courses, 13 tennis courts, polo grounds, equestrian club, spa and a variety of water sports.
The Coral Group's condominium management arm Xeliter Serviced Residences announced the signing of several new properties in the Juan Dolio area, a resort town 45 minutes East of the capital city.
And the high end Aman Hotels & Resorts is opening a boutique hotel in Playa Grande on the North Coast, site of a renowned Robert Trent Jones golf course.
Other Tourist Products
HODELPA announced the opening in September of the BÃ¡varo Adventure Park on a 44-hectare (109 acre) site. The US$15 million theme park consists of 10 state-of-the-art outdoor attractions designed and built following best green building practices.
In addition to tourism authorities, hoteliers and bankers, various tour operators, attractions, regional tourist clusters and associations presented their respective products at a series of press conferences geared to the national and international press.
These included the Marinarium and Luna Tours' Monkey Land in BÃ¡varo-Punta Cana, the Santo Domingo Tourism Cluster's Colonial Zone, and the Sosua & Cabarete Hotel Association's varied offering, among others.
The press conferences were organized and managed by the CICOM media group, the event's communications consultant. CICOM also launched its new print magazine RT, short for Resumen Turismo, the nation's most complete tourism newsletter, which has been consistently produced for the past two decades.
While the DR tourist industry is no doubt enjoying its best period ever, it must remain vigilant for imminent threats that could affect its stability, warned a delegate of the Banco Popular.
The potentially explosive post-Chavez situation in Venezuela, the devaluations in the Mercasur countries and continued economic crises in some of the country's traditional source markets, primarily in the Eurozone, are some of the most ominous clouds on the horizon.
It is the government's vision that by diversifying its tourist products and source markets, keeping an open skies policy, constantly monitoring and focusing its promotion on those that are at the peak of the economic cycle, the consequences of any negative developments can be averted or at least mitigated.
The tourist industry has shown to be very resilient over the years. Economic cycles, political upheavals and sanitary crises come and go, but tourism always seems to rebound on the short to medium term.