In what Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia described as “an extraordinary year,” the Dominican Republic’s 2013 visitor numbers grew by 3.6 percent over the previous year, outpacing the entire Caribbean region, which recorded growth in tourism of only 1 percent.
In welcoming 4.7 million tourists last year, the Dominican Republic streaked ahead of its closest rival Cuba with 2.8 million visitors over the same period, while Jamaica followed, clocking 2 million.
Meanwhile, the Spanish-speaking country’s year-round hotel occupancy averaged 87.3 percent, “one of the highest rates in recent years,” according to Garcia.
The tourism minister attributed the high occupancy in part to the recovery of the European economy, especially the German market, which registered a 16 percent growth in arrivals last year.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the country has set a target of 10 million annual visitors within the decade, with Garcia predicting an 8 percent growth in arrivals by the end of this year alone.
That prediction could well be met, according to Travel Weekly, which noted that tourist arrivals for the first two months of this year were 6 percent above visitor numbers for the same period in 2012.
So what accounts for the popularity of the region’s most visited country?
The 2014 marketing campaign “Dominican Republic Has it All” may not be as hyperbolic as it sounds for a country that boasts such sweeping contrasts as the oldest cathedral in the Americas and the newest (and only) subway system in the Caribbean.
That’s not counting accommodation options designed to meet the needs of everyone from budget travellers to the rich and famous; ease of access, with seven international airports serving major carriers from numerous gateways; stunning scenery including lush forests, 16 national parks, and 1,000 miles of beaches; and 28 top flight golf courses.
Part of the growth is also attributed to significant investments in the country’s infrastructure and restoration of historic sites, such as the major urban renewal project underway within Colonial City, the central neighbourhood of Santo Domingo and the oldest permanent European settlement of the New World.
A raft of incentives also plays its part in the continued development of the tourism plant, with a tax incentive law that provides a 15-year exemption to companies engaged in tourism development, including hotels, attractions and tourist-related activities.
The law also offers tax incentives to existing hotels and resorts that have been in operation for at least five years. A 100 percent tax exemption is available to existing hotels and resorts that are at least 15 years old and remodel or reconstruct more than 50 percent of their facilities.
As if to confirm that the Dominican Republic is doing things right, Expedia reports that the country is its top market in the Caribbean and that its main tourist resort Punta Cana is tops among all destinations in the region.
According to Expedia’s Demetrius Canton, director of market management in the Caribbean, Expedia’s demand for the Dominican Republic grew 33 percent last year, with the leading source markets continuing to be the United States, Canada, France, Brazil, Italy and the United Kingdom.