Asonahores: “We are sending a signal that the tourism industry can reopen”

The president of the Dominican Association of Hotels and Tourism (Asonahores), Rafael Blanco Tejeda, assured that for the entity, looking to the future, it is important to relaunch the sector under the concept of sustainability.

“We want our tourism industry to be environmentally sustainable,” explained Blanco Tejada.

He indicated that the tourism sector wants to try to turn around the crisis generated by COVID-19 and relaunch itself in a much more competitive way.

“We do not only want to achieve the success of the past, but we want to relaunch ourselves with a modern vision, with a competitive vision, and with a public-private vision”, said Blanco Tejeda.

He expressed that they are convinced that the only way to establish the tourism sector is hand in hand with the public sector. In fact, “the way in which we are working with the public sector has been exceptional, we are working as a team in most of the things”.

Speaking to Diario Libre, he assured that the natural resources such as the beaches, mountains, waters, the network of national parks, among others, are what stand out and what differentiates the Dominican tourism sector in the market.

“We always want to maximize the positive impact we have on our communities. We want to continue growing to employ more Dominicans, but we also want tourists to become more integrated into our communities, to know more about us. Most of the surveys they do, apart from the beautiful beaches we have, what tourists love is the Dominican people, our way of being, our culture”, said the head of Asonahores.

Other topics discussed between the executive president of Asonahores and Diario Libre were:

1) How is the tourism sector in the Dominican Republic?

R. We are seeing how tourism is having a sustainable recovery in time. We are getting better and better.

Last month, in April, we had more than 300,000 tourists, a record since the beginning of the pandemic. And, to tell the truth, we are very excited about that, that is, we see how the international tourism market continues to demand travel. As the countries control the COVID-19 situation and regularize it, the process of international travel will continue.

We are currently dependent on the U.S. market. The U.S. has been very supportive by not closing international travel with us. We are basically filling our properties with that market, which is traditionally the most important market. The U.S. represents 44% of our hotel business domestically.

Now we are seeing that the United States is carrying out an exceptional vaccination process, so we are seeing that not only has it responded in these months, but that it is going to get stronger because in a few months the American population is going to reach more than 70 % in the collective immunity. What we are going to see is that the U.S. market will increase its participation in the Dominican tourism sector.

2) How are reservations going?

The company Expidia, which is our main tourism supplier, already has higher levels of reservations for the future than in 2018 and 2019. In other words, the projections we have with a company like Expidia are even higher than what we had before, so we are very excited.

3) What are your expectations for the Canadian market?

R. Canada and Europe have really been the big leg we were missing. We are seeing that Canada is already informing that they are going to open their trips between June and July. This is very important for us because Canada is the other major source of tourists to the Dominican Republic with more than 10% and the north coast depends a lot on Canada.

Germany as of April 25 already allows its citizens to travel to the Dominican Republic. We are in conversation with England to also accelerate this process and, in fact, we saw how during Holy Week we received many Spanish tourists that can come to the Dominican Republic, obviously, when they return they have to take their test, but they can come to the Dominican Republic.

That is what we have seen: a U.S. market that has supported us and Canada and Europe that already seem to have started a sufficiently stable and deep vaccination process that will allow the government and those citizens to travel and also consumers to feel comfortable traveling.

4) What has happened to the employees of the tourism sector who are in the government’s FASE program?

R. It is going to be announced in the next few days, if not hours, that an extension will be given, which I understand will be for two to three months, and the idea with that is precisely to support the north coast, but also to support some hotels in Punta Cana, Bavaro, in the East, which have not yet been able to open in their entirety.

This support from the government is welcome. We have been discussing this with the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of the Presidency a week ago, and we are very grateful for this last effort to guarantee that our employees are covered.

5) How does tourism impact the Dominican economy?

R. The great value of tourism is precisely the linkage it has with the other sectors of the economy. It is evident the whole chain of suppliers that provide products and services to the tourism sector. We are talking about agriculture, industry, telecommunications, the construction sector, alcoholic beverages and other products.

The measurement of the tourism sector at the international level is based on three pillars: first, the direct impact. That is what the tourist spends strictly in the hotel, and then there is the indirect impact, which is everything that is spent in the value chain, that is, all the operational, logistical and supplier structure that we have.

There is also the induced part, which is the last link: what all our employees spend in the economy. When we in the sector pay our employees, we do it by bringing in foreign currency from abroad.

We are now going to carry out an important study, precisely to point out the impact that agriculture has on the industry. We estimate that the impact on agriculture is about 18% of the national production. We are saying that the impact of the tourism sector on all sectors is very important.

In addition, it is very clear that tourism is the main generator of foreign exchange in the country.

Another very important aspect is the generation of employment. More than half a million Dominicans work directly or indirectly in the tourism sector. In other words, that is what we want, to establish that the workers return to their jobs and that the suppliers begin to sell their goods and services so that the economy starts to become more dynamic.

6) What is your assessment in relation to domestic tourism?

R. We have a very aggressive reopening strategy in our market, that opening strategy started with the responsible opening which was a government policy and was based, as a first phase, on local tourism. Traditionally, local tourism represents less than 10% of the hotel demand in the Dominican Republic. However, as we had no international demand, together with the central government we designed the domestic market travel program. That has been a success. That was the total support for us to be able to open, in other words, that is the beginning of the opening process of the tourism sector, of our tourism industry.

We are sending a signal that the tourism industry can be reopened. Now we are going to Fitur with the same proposal, in other words, we need to make the tourism sector a priority at an international level. Many countries at an international level depend on the tourism sector. This whole crisis has represented the loss of thousands and billions of dollars. The pandemic has cost the world 50% of that generation in the tourism sector alone. In other words, the impact is total and it is very important for us to reactivate the industry.

7) How do you consider that the issue of openness has been handled in the Dominican Republic?

R. Actually, the handling of the pandemic and the economic opening carried out by the government of the Dominican Republic has been an example not only regionally, but worldwide.

We have to talk first about the vaccination processes. We are one of the leading countries in terms of vaccination; we have to talk about the responsible reopening, about domestic tourism, but also about the support given to hotels. We have the financial part, we cannot leave aside the Central Bank, the Dominican banks, for the support they gave us, a resounding support; then we have to see the labor part through the Ministry of Labor.

Also, the way in which we work together on the protocols. The Dominican Republic has done an extraordinary job that has been recognized by international organizations such as the WTO (World Tourism Organization).

8) How many rooms do we have in the country and when do you plan to open them all?

R. We currently have around 85,000 rooms and the opening of the hotels depends on the opening of the markets. For example, if we take Santo Domingo, practically all the hotels in Santo Domingo are open and the occupancy rate is over 40%.

Also, in Punta Cana almost all the hotels are open, the only thing is that many hotels cannot open in their entirety. In other words, if they have 1,000 rooms they cannot open them all, but they have 600 rooms open because there is not enough demand to open them completely.

The biggest problem we have is on the north coast. The Canadian and European markets have not opened, we have some programs and some trips, but we need the other countries in Europe to open. What we are seeing is that from summer onwards they will start to open.

If the vaccination processes continue as they are going in Europe and Canada, and if the approach they have taken is that they are going to open in the summer, we believe that we will have a very positive summer and that from then on we will have an occupancy rate that will be clearly improving.

9) Is a convention center important in Santo Domingo?

R. A convention center is really a necessity for the Dominican Republic, and really for Santo Domingo. We have in the Dominican Republic the great privilege of having one of the best air connections in the world, I would say that from here people can arrive from any important city in the Americas, from the main cities in Europe.

The truth is that this is impressive. We also have a privileged hotel plant, for example: here in Santo Domingo we have the best hotel chains in the world.

We understand that a convention center here is really going to mark a before and after in the development of tourism in Santo Domingo because Santo Domingo is now ready to really launch itself into the international arena of large-scale tourism. We have all the elements, we have gastronomy, which is probably the most sophisticated in the region, we have the best shopping malls in the region, the best hotel facilities in the region, we have a cultural part of tourism, a unique Colonial Zone and we also have a very important museum complex.

We are convinced that we are in a privileged moment to be able to take advantage of a conversion center and notice that here in Santo Domingo hotels continue to be built, they have just announced the construction of hotels on Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Gustavo Mejia Ricart avenues, which indicates that there really is an important business opportunity here, but the convention center will be what will bring all these elements together.

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