Efforts to attract a high-end tourist clientele are beginning to bear fruit. The country is now booming with hotels and facilities that meet the most rigorous world quality standards. The countless superb luxury hotels built in the Punta Cana-Bavaro enclave, the Casas del XVI in the Colonial City, along with the lavish spaces of Casa de Campo, Amanera Resort and Punta Arena are examples to follow. Such changes are part of a gradual transformation of the ‘all-inclusive’ model towards a premium tourism scheme, generating high income and with very high added value.
It is obvious, moreover, that the rapid growth of visitor flows will force us, in the immediate future, to moderate human pressure on the projected tourist areas. The maneuver must consist, in this way, in orienting the offer towards segments that allow a gradual increase in monetary income, while at the same time promoting low-density facilities, with a moderate housing load and respectful of the environment. This practice, as can be seen, is already growing rapidly.
The country’s cuisine germinated, centuries ago, as a result of encounters and misunderstandings, displacements and contingencies. For a long time, scarcity urged a feat of instinct and prudence. It was the cuisine of the ‘conuco’: intuitive, sober, devoid of stately tastes. Migrations bring to this land, then, a rainbow of flavors and fragrances. And in the ancient stove boil now, together with the native sapience, the most hidden European and African notations, from the Near East and the Asian firmament. Thus, in the streets of Santo Domingo, in the hotels of Punta Cana-Bavaro, in Puerto Plata or Las Terrenas, travelers can savor a lobster thermidor, a fish “al coco”, a pepper sirloin steak, a stew of “seven meats”, a Valencian paella or the best fettuccini alla puttanesca you could get in Naples. If perhaps the intrepid culinary feats, those surrealistic feats of the ‘signature cuisine’, are what you are looking for, here they are: Hake with saffron aioli, ‘carnivorous’ gypsy arm, Fillet of sole, Sorbet of fromage de tête….
The international boom of Dominican gastronomy is now in the hands of leading figures of this art. Like, for example, Maria Marte: a national chef, formerly at the head of the Club Allard in Madrid (with two Michelin stars), who received the 2015 National Gastronomy Award for Best Chef in Spain.
She says: “For the country’s gastronomy to position itself, it is necessary to make Creole products have more prominence. It is not to give up traditional dishes, but to use imagination. Our land is rich, we have tropical ingredients and fruits that are a blessing and we must take advantage of them”.
The lights of the future are now shining on the scene. By joint decision of the Ibero-American Academy of Gastronomy and the Royal Spanish Academy of Gastronomy, the city of Santo Domingo is awarded the title of “Capital of the Gastronomic Culture of the Caribbean”. María Marte initiates the collaboration to create a school of haute cuisine that will soon operate in the country.
The Dominican Academy of Gastronomy, whose purpose is to research, disseminate, promote and protect Dominican cuisine and gastronomic activities, is working in a similar direction. The national products of livestock, poultry, fishing, agro-industry and agriculture are of the highest quality. And it is also the time when a handful of chefs with unusual skills, worthy of true creators of the genre, settled in the country.
Chef Tita” (Inés Páez Nin), with university studies in Hotel Management, Tourism and Culinary Arts, is a promoter of the “New Dominican Cuisine” through the reinvention of the use of local ingredients and products. She has explored European, Asian and Afro-Caribbean cuisines. Executive chef and owner of Travesías restaurant, she offers a menu inspired by the traditional dishes of the Dominican Republic.
Erik Malmsten was born in Sweden to a Swedish father and a Dominican mother. He has lived in Santo Domingo for more than 10 years. He was awarded in the gastronomy competitions for young chefs sponsored by the egregious French chef Paul Bocuse, one of the mentors of nouvelle cuisine. He currently runs the restaurant O’Livia and the trattoria Francesco. His cuisine is imaginative, delightful, with signs of faint exoticism.
Chef Martín Omar (Martín Omar González Mayí) returned from Spain four years ago and today runs the “Dos Mundos” restaurant at the Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando Hotel. In his saddlebag he carried the motto he learned from an Iberian writer: “The gastronomy of a country is its landscape inside a casserole”. He now says: “I have dedicated myself to making Dominicans, when they put a spoon in their mouths, discover that there is something of their own in that spoonful, in the ingredients or in mixtures that perhaps would not have occurred to them”.
Ciro Casola, an Italian who has been in the country for thirty years and who was the chef of the unsurpassable Fellini restaurant, is one of the most prestigious figures in the national gastronomic environment. In view of the recognition of Santo Domingo as “Capital of the Gastronomic Culture of the Caribbean”, Ciro expressed: “The Dominican Republic enjoys an exquisite gastronomy, but it was not being given the importance it deserves. Now it is more highly valued and efforts are being made to highlight it at the level it deserves”.
In fact, it would not seem a dream to imagine the national cuisine becoming, around the corner, another emblem of our tourist hospitality. Of course, there will be no insurmountable obstacles, when the will and the illusion also advance, like the country as a whole, at cruising speed.
Tourism in the arms of nature
The Dominican Republic maintains 128 protected areas, terrestrial and marine. The protection units cover 12,442 square kilometers, 26% of the national soil, and 45,904 square kilometers of its territorial waters. There are 12 strict protection areas (scientific reserves, marine mammal sanctuaries, and biological reserves), 31 national parks (terrestrial and underwater), 31 natural monuments, 22 habitat and species management areas, 15 forest reserves, and 17 protected landscapes (scenic byways, natural recreational areas, and ecological corridors). The Ministry of Environment recorded 1.84 million visitors to protected areas in 2017. It causes surprise, no doubt, that around 1.40 million of the visitors were foreigners, that is, more than 20% of the total number of tourists entering the country that year.
Environmental conservation is gaining followers every day. The ecological defense, in the face of the climatic breakdown of large areas of the planet, rises in the manner of a religious predicament. Thus, millions of people walk, in ecstasy, through forests and untouched trails. They immerse themselves, with quasi-sacramental intention, in the puddles and streams of clear waters. The amazement before an unknown bird (or a multicolored butterfly) unleashes luminous and unprecedented emotions. Perhaps it is the reencounter of the human being with a world that inexorably changes before his eyes. The richness and diversity of Dominican nature (and its state of conservation, of course) open a wide space: high mountains, forest reserves, marine mammal sanctuaries, ecological corridors. This is the available scenario that the country offers to the multitude of devotees of environmental protection.
And what to do with the millennials, those youngsters who became adults after the year 2000 and embody the critical plea of modernity? They love technology, their natural tool: the Internet, cell phones, social networks. They are dissatisfied and incredulous. They trust people less than previous generations. They declare themselves independent and form a collective, at times disenchanted. They are concerned about their health. They have a higher level of education compared to their ancestors. They conduct themselves with a certain existential immediatism. They love action and competition. They dissipate their energies in high-risk sports. They ride on foot, on a motorcycle or an all-terrain vehicle. Hanging from a catenary, they cross from one mountain to another. In groups, they launch themselves downstream in a boat. They jump and frolic among the rocks and bubbles of a torrent. They are adrenaline tourists. Jarabacoa’s mountains and rivers seem made for them. More than 200 medium-cost rooms are available to accommodate them. Nearly 20 restaurants, cafes and pizzerias will serve them in town. Let’s fill Jarabacoa with millennials. Let them discover the rivers and trails of the Cordillera Central. Let them also get to know Constanza, Jánico and San José de las Matas. Don’t forget: today they represent one third of the world’s population.