Official announcement by the Russian authorities on the elimination of all restrictions on the air flow between Russia and the Dominican Republic for regular and charter flights.
The Dominican ambassador to Russia, Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, explained in a press release issued by the Dominican embassy in Moscow, that the decision had been taken on the basis of the favorable epidemiological situation of the Caribbean country.
In an exclusive conversation with Ambassador Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, he spoke in depth about this important decision in which he, at the head of the Dominican diplomatic mission in Moscow, has actively participated.
More than twenty years ago, when we met, you were Vice Minister of Tourism of the Dominican Republic. Now Russia has arrived as a key destination for tourism to the Caribbean. You have now managed to get Russia to open all flights to the Dominican Republic. How have you achieved that in just one year of diplomatic management?
During my time as vice minister, between 2003 and 2006, at the end of 2005 when I went to India as ambassador, I worked very closely with the Russian market. It was one of the first times that the Dominican Republic participated in the MITT, and it was during that period that the first direct flight was negotiated with the airline Transaero, a direct flight to Punta Cana. I remember that people thought that no Russian was going to fly so many hours to go to the beach, that it was crazy, and Transaero did it, with a view to make a charter every 21 days, even always looking at the option of flying to Punta Cana and continue to Cuba or Mexico, because they did not believe they could fill a plane just to Punta Cana, which was a destination that at that time was quite unknown.
Shortly after the start of that flight every 21 days, it began to operate every 14 days, then every 7 days and then, a few years later, the flight was daily and other airlines were joining. In 2019,before the pandemic 243,000 Russians arrived in our country on different regular flights and also on charter flights.
I arrived in Russia in December 2020 when all borders were closed with all destinations, and one of the main goals was to try to reopen flights from Russia to Rep Dom, the pandemic did not allow it. We started to do a rather diplomatic work to get closer to Russia, to strengthen bilateral relations. We had a visit of our Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Russian Federation, a call between our Chancellor and the Russian Chancellor to discuss several issues, among them the reopening of flights.
We also approached different ministries, different academies and universities, to look at what could strengthen relations after the pandemic, not only for tourists from Russia to come to the Dominican Republic, but also for Dominican tourism to fly to Russia, since on December 15, 2020, the Senate ratified an agreement that had been signed a few years earlier on the elimination of visas for Dominicans in ordinary passports.
What are the favorite destinations of Russians in the Dominican market and where are Russians flying to?
As for the favorite destination of the Russians by numbers and flight arrivals, I could not say that it is Punta Cana, because it is where more flights have arrived in the past, not only from Moscow, but also flights from St. Petersburg, from Kazan, from Ekaterinburg, flights from Rostov, from Novosibirsk and other areas of Russia.
At one time, at the beginning, the borders were opened from August 9 with only 3 frequencies, which the Russian aeronautical authorities authorized for the airline Azurair, which is an airline of the operator Anextour, and there were only 3 frequencies between Moscow and La Romana.
We, as we did not have an airline that could operate the reciprocity of those 3 frequencies, we granted the 3 frequencies open to any airline that wanted to fly to Punta Cana and the aeronautical authorities gave it to Aeroflot that had already expressed its interest to start regular flights to the Dominican Republic. But they said they could not start those flights until September 22 and then they said they could not start until the end of October.
Since Punta Cana was not going to be served in this first flight opening, we asked the commission again to consider adding some frequency to both Puerto Plata and Punta Cana and today we woke up with the pleasant surprise that the Russian Federation, via its health commission, had completely opened the border, had completely opened the border, had eliminated all restrictions to the Dominican Republic, well Nordwin airline has already announced flights to Samana and Puerto Plata, as well as the airline Royal Flight of the operator Coral, has announced flights from August 30 to Punta Cana.
We are very happy that both Nordwin and Royal Flight as well as Azurair and Aeroflot have already expressed their interest in starting flights, or have already started as Azurair has already done and is likely to increase the frequency to La Romana and maybe fly to other cities in the country from other regions of Russia, they are interested in flying and we are not going to stay with our arms crossed.
We want to work with the Russian regions to open flights from other parts of Russia. We have already visited the city of Novosibirsk, which is one of the most important cities in Siberia, and we want to twin our country with Novosibirsk, because our country can be the gateway for Russian products to Central America and the Caribbean, and Novosibirsk can be the gateway for our products to Siberia, to the Asian part of the Russian Federation and to Central Asia. We also believe that we can strengthen relations between our country and the Kazan region and the Ekaterinburg region and we are working on making monthly visits to different regions of Russia to strengthen relations and make ourselves better known in cities outside Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Which tour operators are going to operate the Dominican destination from Russia and how are they going to do it, with regular flights or charters?
As I told you, on August 9 there were restrictions: 3 flights a week only that were granted to Azurair to La Romana, and then 3 more to Aeroflot to fly regular flights to Punta Cana. It has been opened, the restrictions have been removed, there is a complete opening of borders and we are working with different airlines, Nordwin and Royal Flight have expressed their interest, but also Rossiya has expressed interest and has requested and requested some frequencies to the country, but has not yet given a date for the beginning of flights. I think there is a market to our country from not only Moscow and St. Petersburg, but from other cities in Russia as it was demonstrated in 2019 that there were flights from Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and we want to resume those flights from the regions because it not only opens an opportunity for tourism, but for bilateral trade.
Most Russians are vaccinated with Sputnik. Is that one of the fundamental requirements to be able to enter the country?
To enter the country only a PCR test is required and sometimes random tests are done upon arrival. To enter the Dominican Republic they are only doing random tests upon arrival. If you bring that PCR test you will not be randomly tested upon arrival, it means that with that test you will pass without any problem in less than 72 hours. To return to Russia the PCR is required, and there are certain facilities in the hotels and in the tourist areas so that you can have your PCR done 72 hours before the return of the flight to be able to enter Russian territory again. Vaccination of any specific brand is not required. Those who have their vaccination can return to Russia, and those who have the Sputnik vaccine can return to Russia without PCR.
What volumes of Russian tourists do you expect to arrive in the Dominican Republic after this reopening?
We would like to reach the same pre-pandemic numbers of 245,000 Russians in 2019. We know that starting almost August, it will be difficult to meet that goal, but I think that by next year we can meet it and maybe even exceed it, because we have made the visa issue much more flexible, with the nationals of countries that have visas that use flights from Moscow.
I believe that with this flexibility, with this desire that the Russian has to travel, with this desire that we have to receive and give the hospitality that characterizes the Russians, I believe that the numbers will be as they were pre-pandemic and that probably next year we will surpass it and that is what we are going to work to achieve. But we are also working hard so that Dominicans get to know this wonderful country that is the Russian Federation, full of culture, history, churches, museums. We want them to use Russia as a point to connect to other parts of Asia when they have to go there for business or pleasure; we want the Dominicans to know more about its culture, its music, its magnificent history, its cinema, its literature, its past, its present.
Moscow is now a very cosmopolitan city with many restaurants, with a very impressive tourist activity. It is a clean and safe city for tourists, and we want Dominicans to get to know Russia as well.
We want those flights to bring not only tourists, but also Russian products that can be sold in the country and Dominican products that can be sold in Russia.
We want the relations to be truly bilateral and not unilateral, that there be reciprocity in the benefits that these diplomatic relations bring.
These are pragmatic relations, relations of friendship and solidarity. We have always had non-confrontational relations, with nothing negative towards each other and we want these flights not only to increase tourism but also to increase the opportunities for cultural, academic and business exchanges between our two countries to strengthen the bilateral relations that have existed for 76 years.
What other goals have you set, from your position as head of the Dominican diplomatic mission in Russia, to encourage tourism to your country?
One of my goals is to make the Russian people, who sometimes think of our destination as sun and beach, get to know the diversity of the Dominican Republic. Get to know and start visiting places like Jarabacoa, Constanza, Bahía de la Águilas. Other parts of the country like Montecristo, get to know the capital, our history, our colonial zone.
I see that everyone there knows the beaches of Punta Cana, the beaches of Samana and Puerto Plata, but they don’t know much about our history, our colonial areas, our historic city, the diversity of our capital, a cosmopolitan city.
Our country is much more than an island that has a little bit of everything and I think that is one of the goals, I think that when we bring television programs from Russia, when we promote the Dominican Republic not only promote the sun and the beach, but all the other things that the country has to offer, because the truth is that we have a very complete destination, those who want sun and beach, those who want mountains and those who want to surf and play golf, and those who want many other things. We even have dunes in the Bani area. And I want the Russian to begin to know other facets of our destination and to discover the spontaneous hospitality of the Dominican, selfless.
Someone once told me, when you meet a Dominican, you meet him today and at the time you think you met him 20 years ago, that is something that characterizes us, I think that the Caribbean islands are all very similar. We have the same natural beauties, the same musical rhythms, but sometimes the informality, the spontaneity and the way that characterizes us, that part of the bachata and merengue, is what makes tourists prefer to visit the Dominican Republic and that is what I would like the Russians to begin to discover that we are more than sun and beach, that we have many more things to offer and that is what I think that little by little the programs from Russia, when there are Fam trips, we will highlight all those different things that the Dominican Republic offers, that maybe it is not a small island like the Seychelles or Jamaica, or Barbados or Grand Cayman.
We are a country with much more diversity in nature, much more diversity in things to do, and how cosmopolitan our city of Santo Domingo is, or our city of Santiago, or even the town of Puerto Plata, which has Victorian architecture that has very authentic things to offer tourists.