The Dominican Republic's tourist bubble

Hacienda Samaná

July 1, 2021

The Caribbean country, which has immunized employees in the sector, already receives more travelers from the United States than in 2019

-Diario El País

The tourist in times of pandemic has to choose between the usual destinations , with great pull from the coastline. The beaches that will be chosen are those that have been seasoned with a good stream of sanitary security. In this new scenario the Dominican Republic stands out. Part of its success is explained by Peter, a German traveler already vaccinated with the full Pfizer regimen who has been enjoying two weeks of the country's beaches: "This is a paradise and it seems that there is no pandemic," he assures on his last day of vacation with the skin color of someone who has not wasted time.

There is no magic measure by which the Dominican Republic has become a reference for the tourist recovery of the Caribbean area. Among the many reasons, the factor that seems the most determining is the recovery in demand from the United States. The North American country takes several bodies ahead of the rest in the vaccination process and one of the effects is stampeding abroad for leisure. In the case of the Dominican Republic, at the end of May it already had 10% more bookings from US travelers for July than on the same dates in 2019, before the covid.

With these ingredients, the Caribbean country has become a kind of mirror to which everyone looks (on both sides of the Atlantic) due to the rebound in the industry. The hope that comes and the future that is expected in tourist destinations such as Spain: as immunization advances in Europe, one of the pillars of the economy will recover. The big question is whether that moment will come in time to save the summer campaign . The sector crosses its fingers to make it happen as soon as possible, although the important thing is that it be a reality , finally, throughout the year and closing a dark stage for an industry that is now content to survive.

The tourist image in the Dominican Republic is confused with what was usual before the coronavirus. In Las Terrenas, on the Samaná peninsula, in the northeast of the country, at nine in the morning there are already a dozen tourists who are toasting in the sun. Others, meanwhile, have breakfast at the beachside bar of the Bahía Príncipe Grand El Portillo hotel. This situation could be from 2019, but no, it is from May 2021. And that does not mean that security measures do not exist, although they have been made more flexible to find the difficult balance between controlling the pandemic and enjoying the holidays. In the hotel, for example, the temperature is taken daily, the use of a mask is mandatory in the busiest areas and the washing of hands with hydroalcoholic gel.

In the country the requirement for negative PCR testing has been removed —it is performed not on entry, but on departure of the hotel—. Of course, random tests are carried out in the main international airports. Among the actions carried out to encourage tourism, the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, highlights one of them: “All hotel employees have been vaccinated to guarantee the safety of the sector. If tourism advances, we all advance, because many families make a living from this activity, "he explained in a meeting with a dozen media outlets, including EL PAÍS, on a trip organized by Grupo Piñero. Furthermore, Abinader highlighted that the recovery is no longer just a forecast, but is a reality: “By the end of 2021 we will be in similar numbers [in days and spending] to those before the COVID crisis ”.

The Minister of Tourism, David Collado, delves into the figures and puts them in context, especially given the importance of the travel industry for the country, to which it contributes 22% of GDP if the direct and indirect impact are added. . “For us, tourism is not a luxury, it is the main lance of our economy. It is good news that for July the reserves are already historic, especially with the United States market ”, assures Collado. According to state bank Banreservas, the increase will reach 20% by July. “International reserves for the Punta Cana-Bávaro area are already 37% higher than the previous year's data,” explains Samuel Pereyra, general administrator of the entity.

Hotel reservations have reached the maximum allowed

The hoteliers share the optimism. So much so that many are already with high reserve levels for the second semester. "There are already hotels that are full and they are asking us to raise the maximum occupancy allowed, which is now 80%," says the Minister of Tourism. In the first semester, the occupation has been lower than before the covid, but months of bonanza are expected. The Bahía Príncipe chain, for example, until June had more tourists from the United States (25% more) than in the same period in 2019. A rebound that will increase in the second part of the year. "With what has been sold so far, it is already over 50%", explains Encarna Piñero, CEO of Grupo Piñero. By areas, Punta Cana stands out, which is at the maximum occupancy allowed by the pandemic for this winter.

Sophia, a resident of Orlando, enjoys these days what the area has to offer: “I have already been vaccinated and had a few weeks off, so I came here without thinking twice. And by the end of the year I hope to return ”.

The North American hotel company Apple Leisure Group (ALG) is in a similar situation in the area. Across the Caribbean, the firm registered a growth of 40.45% in bookings between March 14 and May 23 when compared to the same dates in 2019. In its case, the pull is also explained by the American Market vaccination. Alejandro Reynal, CEO of ALG, hopes that this domino effect will be repeated around the world: “There is a contained demand that is now coming out. We hope the same will happen in other tourist destinations such as Spain ”. This positive look is the common denominator, although in some cases the good news is to be expected. For example in Riu, where occupations are still well below 2019.

The main source markets of the Dominican Republic are the United States (more than two million tourists arrived in 2019), Canada (almost 900,000), France and Russia (more than 200,000), as well as Argentina, Germany and Spain (close to 200,000) , according to the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic. And the main entry point is Punta Cana, the jewel in the crown for foreign travelers. Among the thousands of tourists who will arrive in the remainder of the year is Mercedes Romera, from Dos Hermanas (Seville), who has organized her trip for the end of July with the agency Mundo the travel store. “I go with my parents, my husband and my two children. We are already vaccinated, except for the children, and we wanted a quiet place like Samaná, where there are hardly any infections and with vaccinated workers ”.

The wind is blowing in your favor, there is no doubt. Despite this, the Dominican Government remains cautious in the face of the ups and downs that the health emergency may still cause. Knowing also that this year it will continue below the levels of 2019 and that the long-awaited sorpasso will not arrive until 2022. If nothing goes wrong along the way.

Desde la izquierda, David Collado, ministro de Turismo de la República Dominicana, Encarna Piñero, consejera delegada del Grupo Piñero, y Luis Abinader, presidente de la República Dominicana, el 27 de mayo en Punta Cana durante la presentación de Soltour Tralvel Partners.
From the left, David Collado, Minister of Tourism of the Dominican Republic, Encarna Piñero, CEO of Grupo Piñero, and Luis Abinader, President of the Dominican Republic, on May 27 in Punta Cana during the presentation of Soltour Tralvel Partners.

Investments to boost tourism and better air connectivity

The Government of the Dominican Republic has launched a package of aid to tourism, among which are the improvement of beach facilities (10 million dollars, about 8.4 million euros at the current exchange rate), measures to combat sargassum with the private sector (12 million dollars), beach regeneration together with the Inter-American Investment Bank (70 million dollars) and the rehabilitation of assets of cultural interest (90 million dollars).

The president also tries to improve air connectivity. To do this, it has eliminated taxes on internal flights, as advanced by Minister Collado, to promote national tourism. In fact, local travel has gained weight during the pandemic (they have gone from representing 3% to 35% of tourism in the last year). An increase that is largely explained by the drop in international arrivals (-68%).

And from abroad, new air connections are being promoted, such as the one that Air Europa will debut in July, which will link Madrid and Samaná. A connection promoted by a new player in the tour operator sector in Spain, Soltour Travel Partners - a union of Soltour, from Grupo Piñero, and Smytravel, from Logitravel. Separately, they added a turnover of about 300 million euros before the covid, a figure that they intend to raise together to 500 million in 2023 or 2024, according to their CEO, Tomeu Bennasar.

Source: El País

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