It was in 2012 when former President Danilo Medina set a goal for the Dominican Republic to reach 10 million tourists in 10 years.
This projection for several experts and actors in the tourism sector has been viable thanks to timely investments in infrastructure at both public and private levels. In addition to an excellent international campaign that the country has had as a tourist destination.
From 2012 to 2019 the country registered an average annual growth of 5% in tourist arrivals, totaling 45.2 million visitors, according to figures published by the Ministry of Tourism (Mitur).
It was in 2019 when that growth was affected and the number of tourists traveling to the Dominican Republic reached 6,446,036, which represented a decrease of 122,964 visitors, or 1.87% less compared to 2018.
The drop in tourist arrivals was attributed to a negative campaign, due to the death of several travelers visiting the country at the time of their deaths, which forced the Dominican Government to deploy a diplomatic and communication effort to try to counteract what was considered an “international discrediting campaign” against the Dominican tourism sector.
After it was clarified that the deaths were due to natural causes and not security-related issues, an improvement began to show. However, months later, on March 18, 2020, the Dominican Republic, like other countries in the world, had to close due to the ravages caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
It was on July 1, 2020 when the country reopened its doors to foreign tourism, after airports, hotels and tourist destinations put in place different anti-covid 19 security protocols. For that year the arrival of non-resident passengers to the country was 2,405,315, which presented an inter-annual variation of minus 62.7% in relation to 2019, although an important improvement taking into account the closure due to the pandemic.
By 2021 the figure reaches 4,994,309 tourists, for a growth of 107.6% compared to 2020, making the Dominican Republic a reference of recovery and openness worldwide after the effects of the virus.
By 2022 the growth projection continued to be met, with the country receiving 7,163,395 tourists, surpassing by 9.1% the 2018 record before the defamatory campaign and covid-19. In addition to a year-on-year growth of 43.4% over 2021 and 11.1% when compared to 2019.
As of the first half of 2023, the Dominican tourism sector continued to strengthen, receiving 4,086,693 tourists via air, This figure represents an inter-annual increase of 15.2%. In addition, 1,267,451 cruise passengers visited the Dominican Republic in the first 6 months of the year, which represents a total of 5,354,126, according to figures offered jointly by the Central Bank and Mitur.
HOY interviewed tourism consultant Juan Lladó; the president of the Caribbean Tourism Exchange (BTC), Luis Felipe Aquino and the president of the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (Asonahores), David Libre, who spoke about the challenges of investment and development of tourism in the Southern region and expectations for the next five years of Dominican tourism.
According to Lladó, the tourism sector is currently experiencing a vigorous rebound after the pandemic. This has been due to the fact that the travel restrictions due to the pandemic have created a “pent-up demand” for tourism services.
Asonahores reported a few days ago that hotel occupancy was at a national average of 80%, and the positive forecasts for the rest of the year indicate a final average between 75 and 80% for the whole year.
In addition, Mitur has estimated 7.8 million tourist arrivals for 2023, and possibly more than two million cruise ship visitors. This allows us to affirm that the Dominican tourism industry is fully recovered and has reached an enviable maturity and a world-class hotel plant.
From the operational point of view, the industry faces personnel shortages as one of its main current problems.
However, it recognizes the significant increase in the activities of the Instituto Nacional de Formación Técnico Profesional (Infotep) to train well-qualified personnel, which makes it possible to foresee a solution in the short term.
On the other hand, it is expected that an upcoming Open Skies agreement with the United States will contribute to increase the destination’s connectivity.
In addition, a recent incentive law for domestic aviation will also strengthen connectivity.
At this juncture, the main challenge is to maintain the country’s peaceful social environment and ensure that health and public safety protocols are rigorously applied. Lladó also states that for the medium and long term, of course, the three main challenges are sustainability, quality and diversification of the product, for which it would be advisable to develop an Integral Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development (as the country’s main competitors Cancun, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and others have).
Regarding investment, the consultant considers that there are two aspects that should be examined.
The first, and the one he believes to be the most important, is that of commercial banks that have developed credit portfolios for tourism companies that already exceed US$2 billion.
The second is that of private investors. In this area, until recently, national investment was declining as national hotel owners were unable to compete adequately with the marketing capabilities of international hotel chains (less than 5% of the hotel inventory is owned by national investors).
However, recently the stock market has been the channel for a couple of investment funds to invest in projects of international companies.
In the medium term, it can be predicted that this type of joint venture will be the prevailing one for national investments in the tourism sector.
Regarding public investment, he says that the first has to do with the basic infrastructure services demanded by the tourism industry (roads, electricity, aqueducts, etc.) and the second with investments in the development of tourist centers made by the State.
The satisfaction of the needs in both aspects is almost impossible to achieve as the country grows and develops.
But, in his opinion, in the matter of infrastructure services, the most urgent thing would be for the State to make the required investment in the sewage system of the Municipal District of Veron-Punta Cana, and in the regional aqueduct, both works contemplated in the General State Budget for this year.
The beach, the climate and the kindness of the Dominican people are not enough to continue developing this sector.
In this sense, he exhorts to seek the identification of existing attractions that need to be enhanced to facilitate tourist visits (river resorts, mountains, historical sites, protected areas, etc., etc.).