Of MICE and Men


The Caribbean has long held a mysterious grip on the imagination, made real in the era of mass tourism, where special occasions, a hankering for luxury golfing, and the corporate hospitality universe make the Dominican Republic a must-see.

From sipping rum to puffing on a cigar in the cosmopolitan elegance of capital city Santo Domingo, having absorbed its history, to the beach-bound splendor of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s (DR) tourism offering knows no end.

Merely being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south says it all about this tropical getaway that has close to 1,609km of coastline, 402km of which can claim to rank among world’s prime beaches. The resorts on offer complement the natural surroundings in terms of sheer scope, while the visitor is presented with a dizzying range of options from relaxing in the sun with a rum to local gastronomy and eco-tourism for the more adventurous in national parks and on mountain sides. Moreover, while still a prestigious luxury destination, the DR is no longer solely the preserve of the A-lister. Predictably, the US and Canada still account for the bulk of inbound visitors, in 2015 respectively sending 2 million and 780,000. The DR has also long become a favorite destination for MICE

All MICE Welcome

The MICE industry is enamored with the Dominican Republic, today its primary Caribbean destination, and one fully equipped to stage unforgettable corporate events. According to the International Congress and Convention Association, for 2015 the DR ranked 11th for North and Latin America, where the resort of Punta Cana stood out in particular. Association data reveals that the DR had overtaken Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in the MICE category; those neighboring islands had respectively ranked 16th, 18th, 20th, and 22nd, on the list.
And as of 2015 the nation had reached 55th on the global MICE list, adjacent to Morocco and Vietnam, while surpassed by the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.

Economic Engine

Inclusive economic growth has been slow in coming, and the tourism sector is set to become a larger component of the broader economy going forward.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was DOP136.9 billion (5% of total GDP) in 2014, and is forecast to rise by 2.3% in 2015, and to rise by 2.8% pa from 2015-2025, to DOP183.7 billion (4.5% of total GDP) in 2025. The total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was DOP439.1 billion (16.0% of GDP) in 2014, and is forecast to rise by 2.7% in 2015, and to rise by 2.8% pa to DOP594.7 billion (14.6% of GDP) in 2025.

In 2014 travel and tourism directly supported 188,000 jobs (4.4% of total employment). This is expected to rise by 1.2% in 2015 and rise by 2.3% pa to 239,000 jobs (4.2% of total employment) in 2025. In 2014, the total contribution of travel and tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 14.7% of total employment (624,000 jobs). This is expected to rise by 1.5% in 2015 to 633,500 jobs and rise by 2.2% pa to 787,000 jobs in 2025 (13.7% of total).

Visitor exports generated DOP256.8 billion (35.1% of total exports) in 2014. This is forecast to grow by 1.7% in 2015 and by 2.6% pa, from 2015-2025, to DOP336.2 billion in 2025 (29.4% of total).

Travel and tourism investment in 2014 was DOP20 billion, or 5.1% of total investment. It should rise by 6.7% in 2015, and rise by 3.6% pa over the next 10 years to DOP30.5 billion in 2025 (5.3% of total).

Poolside Performance

The tourism sector overall grew 5.8% in 2015, outperforming the aggregate Caribbean print of 3.7% and more than double the global average. The local tourism sector had posted median growth of 5.1% over the previous five years, and is estimated to host 6 million total visitors in 2016 on targeted 7% annual growth.

Room to Grow

For 2015 the local hotel occupancy rate, at 75.5%, also exceeded that of overall Caribbean numbers, and an average of 80% is foreseen for 2016. Punta Cana is the key destination, currently with a room count of around 37,000, followed by Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo, respectively claiming 18% and 10% of rooms available. The offer spectrum continues to widen, too, as chains such as Barceló, Intercontinental, and Hard Rock pitch tent. Official figures expect 18,000 new hotel rooms by 2019, resulting from 55 new hotel projects and tourism pipeline investments of around USD2 billion.

Smoother Travel

The travel process itself is set to become more seamless as of May 2017, at which date preclearance facilities at Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) for US travelers returning from the DR will see them bypass US customs upon their return home.

PUJ is the primary point of entry to the DR, at which 66% of all travelers wait by the luggage carousel. It is followed by Santo Domingo’s Las Americas International Airport (SDQ) and Puerto Plata’s Gregorio Luperón International Airport (POP). The three airports realize 92% of foreign air travel into the Republic. Furthermore, an open-sky policy is accommodative of still more flights, as nine nationalities require no tourist visa, while citizens of 145 other nations, including the US and Canada, simply buy a tourist card upon landing.

Cruise Control

The stream of loud shirts disembarking in the DR turned flood with the opening in 2015 of Puerto Plata’s Amber Cove, whereby cruise arrivals rocketed 64% to 550,000 visitors. The seasonal weekly average for 2015 was 5,000 visitors.

The number of global cruise passengers is set to rise again in 2017 after several years of consecutive growth, according to the largest industry trade group.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released its 2017 outlook on Thursday, estimating 25.3 million passengers will set sail this year, up from the 24.2 million who traveled in 2016. The CLIA also reported 26 new vessels are scheduled to debut in 2017, for a total investment just shy of USD7 billion.

North America President of privately owned MSC Cruises, Roberto Fusaro, says the Caribbean, which currently accounts for 34% of activity, should remain the most popular destination. “Outside of the Caribbean, however, there is a growing interest in Northern Europe and the Emirates region as new cities and destinations rise in popularity and become available to cruisers.”

Within the Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line highlighted a location to watch in 2017. “Amber Cove, Dominican Republic is a newly opened cruise port that is a gateway to the beautiful northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Until its opening, cruise ships had not called on this lush mountain-esque northern coast in decades.”

So Many Reasons

Sector data clearly shows that increasing numbers of visitors opt for multi-destination holidays, rather than a fortnight on the beach. Around 80% of all visits to the Dominican Republic’s protected regions are made by foreign tourists. Naturally, this diversification of the offering is precisely what the Ministry of Tourism, and the broader government, have been targeting. Hard evidence of this comes in the form of hard surfaces, as over 8,000km of roads have been laid or expanded of the past three years, whereby all major touristic areas are connected, with most today requiring no more than a two-hour drive. With opportunities for a wide range of tourism on the same island, the Dominican Republic continues to hold a large advantage over other destinations and is positioned to expand the diversity of its offerings, with MICE, ecotourism, and luxury travel among the largest niches of focus for the coming year. While sun and beach remain the country’s most sought-after attractions, the Dominican Republic continues to work to expand its competitive offerings in the tourism marketplace. Between adventurous Puerto Plata, lush Samaná, sunny Punta Cana, luxe La Romana, historic Santo Domingo, and more, the country prides itself on offering something for every type of traveler and budget.

State Support

BanReservas, the state-run bank, has expanded its program to finance tourism projects. The bank recently announced the creation of the Tourism Trust Fund, which will provide financial support to the dynamic sector. The bank maintains a USD230 million portfolio in tourism projects, and is currently in the process of evaluating other proposals valued at USD200 million.

Bank Director Enrique Ramírez Paniagua explained that the Tourism Trust Fund has been especially designed to help support the private sector and the tourism industry by providing funds that will help build new hotels, refurbish older facilities, and purchase land for future projects.

He explained that the fund has already financed such important projects as the Secret Cap Cana Hotel, the Blue Mall shopping center in Punta Cana, the Nickelodeon Hotel, and the “Azul Sensatori.”

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