Success of DR tourism arouses interest in Davos; President Abinader highlights the sector as vital for economic recovery

A successful strategy for tourism recovery, combined with a consistent effort to take care of the health of the people, is the key to the recovery of the economy in the Dominican Republic, and is the reason why international organizations dealing with tourism, health and the economy present us as a country that has been successful in facing the crisis caused by the pandemic.

President Luis Abinader made this approach in a presentation in which he explained these strategies and their results, while participating in the panel “Rethinking and revitalizing travel and tourism”, held today Monday at the World Economic Forum held annually here, in which participants presented on the policies and possible actions to reimagine and revitalize this sector.

President Abinader’s presentation, like the interventions of the other five speakers, was brief, but after the panel, which was transmitted through Internet channels, it provoked a series of questions whose answers consumed about 15 minutes of presentation, which made the president the center of the informal exchange that took place after the activity was over.

The panelists accompanying President Abinader were Keir Simmons, NBC News international correspondent; Antonio Capuano, CEO of Marriott International; Haifa Bint Mohammed Al Saud, Deputy Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia; S. Iswaran, Minister of Transport of Singapore and Ruzwana Bashir, Peek.com.

In his first participation in the panel, President Abinader said that the experiences contributed by the other participants “are very good”, but to understand what was done in the Dominican Republic, he must explain that he assumed the presidency of the country in August 2020 with the economy and tourism paralyzed.

He expounded that, aware that tourism contributes more than 20% of the gross domestic product and about 20% of employment, and analyzing the economic dynamics, “we knew that our economy would not get going if tourism did not recover. We had to strike a balance between preserving the health of our people, but at the same time opening up the economy.”

In his brief account, President Abinader focused on the strategy for tourism and detailed that in order to understand how to proceed, surveys and focus groups were conducted in the United States, the main outbound market, which was beginning to open up. We learned, he said, that after months locked up in their homes “people wanted to go out” and were seduced by the image of sun and beach of the Dominican landscape, but “they were afraid of the consequences of getting sick”.

Analyzing options, he explained, it was decided “to create the only COVID-19 insurance, the only one in the world, which was free for anyone coming to the Dominican Republic. That’s how we gained the trust of people, who started flying to our country.”

A question from the panel was “did it cost a lot?”. Abinader answered bluntly, “Yes, it cost, but it cost more if tourists did not come. That was the analysis we made. Besides, the insurance company was state-owned. But it must also be said that only 0.7% of the tourists we received used it, because they had to take the COVID test when they arrived in the country”.

We started working with the insurance, he said, “but at the same time we had one of the fastest vaccination programs in the Americas, and we also started vaccinating hotel employees. Our decision was to open the country to tourism in order to recover the economy.

At the beginning of the pandemic, said President Abinader, we wanted to open hotels that were closed, and we began to finance Dominicans who were interested in visiting them, “because they had to open and be prepared for the winter of 2020 and 2021. So domestic tourism, which was 8%, increased to 17%, and helped us prepare for the arrival of international tourists; but we also have 2 million Dominicans living in the U.S. and they were the first to come as tourists to the Dominican Republic.”

It was time to open the destination, he said. Now “we are opening a new pole called Pedernales in the south of the country with beautiful beaches. I am happy that the biggest hotel companies in the world, starting with Marriot, have already signed an agreement to develop and manage a hotel there.

 

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