Sustainable tourism is based on principles of social inclusion and long-term sustainability, minimizing the impact on the environment, valuing local culture, and helping to generate income and quality of life for the affected population.
The dialogue between the parties led to an agreement whereby the investors agreed to preserve the public use of the beach, provide 300 parking spaces for visitors, build a picturesque square with Victorian-style kiosks for the sale of local food and handicrafts, provide restrooms for men and women, and assign POLITUR premises.
Since the beginning of high-standard tourism development in the sought-after area of Playa Grande in 2012, this emblematic sun and beach destination on the Costa Verde has become a benchmark for inclusive, socially and environmentally sustainable tourism.
From the outset, it should be noted that sustainable tourism is based on principles of social inclusion and long-term sustainability, minimizing the impact on the environment, valuing local culture and contributing to generate income and quality of life for the impacted population.
The Playa Grande tourism development project has rescued these principles and over the course of 10 years has enriched its brand offerings with the values of the neighboring communities, including gastronomy, natural attractions and the cultural richness of the area.
Beach tourism, a history of conflict
Historically, the development of beach tourism in the Dominican Republic has been marked by conflict, in some cases with environmental regulations, in others with the surrounding communities and almost always with the merchants and informal workers who traditionally make a living serving the visiting public.
At its inception, the overall Playa Grande project contemplated a total investment of US$500 million, including the construction of a six-star Aman-branded hotel with 30 rooms, 38 villas, a boutique hotel, a beach village, the redesign of the Playa Grande golf course, and sports offerings such as tennis, equestrian clubs and other attractions.
However, when the development of the project was announced, representative leaders from Cabrera, Abreu and Rio San Juan, led by former mayor Jorge Cavoli and Rafael Mirabal, leader of the traditional vendors of Playa Grande, expressed their fears that the area’s emblematic beach would be privatized, limiting public access by eliminating parking lots and excluding the small merchants and workers who operated at the site.
The reaction of the community members was initially considered by representatives of Playa Grande Holding and Costa Norte at Playa Grande, the two companies responsible for the overall project, as a possible rejection of the important investment or as a way to create difficulties, perhaps for unsavory purposes.
However, from the outset the investors, guided by a communications firm hired to manage media implications and relations with authorities and social leaders, opened a space for dialogue with the communities to seek a consensus that would facilitate the start-up of the project without affecting public use of the beach or excluding traditional workers.
A benchmark for inclusive and sustainable tourism
The dialogue between the parties quickly led to an agreement whereby the investors agreed to preserve the public use of the beach, the provision of 300 parking spaces for visitors, the construction of a picturesque plaza with kiosks and gazebos for the sale of local food and handicrafts, the provision of restrooms for men and women, and the allocation of a POLITUR site.
The agreement with the traditional vendors was discussed and closed with the Playa Grande Vendors Association, represented at that time by its president Rafael Mirabal, who is currently the director of the Ministry of Tourism for the municipalities of Cabrera and Río San Juan.
Reviewing the experience of the first ten years of the development of Playa Grande, Rafael Mirabal values the contribution of the investors not only for the fulfillment of the agreements with the authorities and the vendors, but also for their support to the local economy and to the educational, cultural, environmental and sports activities of the neighboring communities.
She cites the role of the Playa Grande Foundation, sponsored by the tourism group, under the coordination of its executive Alexandra Jerónimo, which as part of its social responsibility program, devotes special attention to the cultural theme, as sponsor of the marine carnival of Río San Juan, known as Carnavarengue Río San Juan, which has as its main stage the Gri Gri Lagoon, where every year a platform is set up for the celebration of the great Queen’s coronation event.
According to Mirabal, the group adopted from the beginning the policy of preferentially hiring residents of the area to carry out the works of the project and to participate in the economic activities related to the new tourist and commercial investments.
A well-deserved reward. It should be remembered that the value of the example set by community members, workers, foreign businessmen and local authorities did not go unnoticed in time, since in the first edition of the Luis Augusto Caminero Award, organized by the Dominican Association of Tourist Press (ADOMPRETUR) in 1919, the evaluating jury awarded the statuette corresponding to the category “Tourism and Social Coexistence” to the Playa Grande tourism project, represented by its executive Rolando Fernández, and to the new mayor of the community of Cabrera, Jorge Cavoli.
In this way, the guild of tourism journalists did justice to all the actors involved in the rational management of an eventual conflict and to the solution agreed upon for the benefit of the tourism project and the most directly impacted communities, and to an inclusive development model strongly linked to the community, the environmental heritage and the cultural values of the country.
The charm of the Placita Gastronómica de Playa Grande It is not only about the best Creole food, based mainly on fish and seafood, at prices regulated by the vendors’ association itself, so as not to abuse customers and tourists, but also about enjoying a typically Caribbean atmosphere, under a leafy roof of coconut, almond and other trees typical of the area, within walking distance of the fine sand of the beach and the waves of the sea.
For many locals accustomed to the paradisiacal environment of the Dominican beaches, this experience may not be out of the ordinary, but for a tourist from the United States, Canada, Europe or any region with a cold or temperate climate, it is a memorable experience. That is probably the image that this little square represents for the guests of the hotels in the area, including the boutique hotel Playa Grande Beach Club, located a short distance from the little square, the exclusive hotel Amanera, and Playa Grande Golf and Ocean Club.
The interesting thing is that in just a few meters away converge celebrities who frequently visit the exclusive hotels located in the surroundings of Playa Grande, with Dominican families who gather in the Placita Gastronómica or in the shaded areas of the sand to share a Creole meal or a typical drink in a safe environment, where they can also purchase the best crafts of the country, including well finished leather bags or coconut jícara, or very fine pieces of amber and Larimar and at very affordable prices.
As protagonists of these Playa Grande encounters, figures of the international jet set, such as Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Jordan, Mark Bufalo (the Incredible Man), and Jovanka Trump, the daughter of the past president of the United States, Donald Trump, are mentioned.
Undoubtedly, a valid reference for tourism development based on the use of public heritage or natural resources of a locality or region.