Dominican Republic expects record numbers of tourists in 2011-2012

United States tourists stopped traveling to Europe

The Dominican Republic, the Caribbean’s top tourism destination, expects record numbers of tourists this year and next. It’s on pace to receive nearly 5 million visitors in 2011, topping the record set last year.

The global economy is clearly having an effect on tourism, but the Dominican Republic is trending higher. It’s a growing and developing destination, said Scott Sperling, senior economist at Pennsylvania-based Tourism Economics, which forecasts travel patterns around the world.

Tourism Economics recently revised its global tourism forecast downward. While tourist travel will grow, it will only increase by 2.5 percent this year, Sperling said.

But economic struggles appear to be working in the Dominican Republic’s favor.

We are attracting the [U.S.] tourists who are not going to Europe because it’s far and more expensive, said Humberto Ozoria, spokesman for the Dominican Ministry of Tourism.

Sperling said the total number of visitors to the country — arriving by airplane and cruise ship — is expected to increase by 4.7 percent this year and grow by a robust 5.7 percent in 2012.

Because of the economic situation, Americans that used to travel to long-haul destinations have shifted their preferences to traveling to closer destinations, the ministry said.

On the island’s northern coast, the once teeming resorts around the city of Puerto Plata, not far from where Christopher Columbus established his first settlement, 15 hotels have closed in recent years, either temporarily or permanently.

Puerto Plata was one of the most popular areas. But around five years ago, we were overtaken by areas with newer, bigger hotels, like Punta Cana, said Máximo Iglesias, president of ASHONORTE (the Association of Hotel Owners on the North Coast). Now, we have to try to make ourselves stand out.

Punta Cana, a stretch of powdery, white-sand coastline and enormous resorts on the country’s eastern coast has grown rapidly and been promoted heavily.

An unpopulated backwater with a shoreline clogged with mangroves just a few decades ago, the area has become one of the most visited spots in the Caribbean. Its airport is busier than the international airport serving Santo Domingo, a metropolitan area of 3.4 million people.

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