Never thought of visiting the Dominican Republic? Well, you might be soon. In our Breakout Role series, we take a look at places that have seen huge increases in tourism in the last few years, and try to figure out what’s causing all the hype.
It’s no surprise that the Dominican Republic is a thriving tourist destination. When thinking of the Caribbean nation, images of tranquil, crystal blue beaches and luxurious all-inclusive hotels probably come to mind first and foremost.
This association seems to be mostly accurate, too. The country’s resorts have been listed by Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure as some of the world’s best—and that’s just in the past four months.
The prestige and acclaim of the Dominican Republic’s resorts have led to a steady rise in tourism over the course of the last 20 years, one that has seen the country’s annual international visitors increase from around 1.8 million in 1995 to 5.6 million in 2015. Additionally, 2016 was almost certainly the best year yet for Dominican tourism, with the number of incoming tourists likely totaling at around 6 million once the final figures are tallied up and released publicly.
A large part of this sustained growth can be found in a country just a two-hour flight to the northwest—the United States. Americans make up the largest group of travelers arriving in the Dominican Republic each year, comprising of almost 25 percent of the nation’s international tourists in 2015.
But it wasn’t always this way. According to Sven Hombolm, founder of destination management company called Dominican Tours the country used to be a hotspot for Western European vacationers, not North Americans.
“There’s been a very significant Americanization of tourism to the Dominican Republic,” Hombolm says.
Since starting his company in 1994, Hombolm has seen the country adjust its hospitality industry to better accommodate increasing American interest. He notes a number of changes, including the addition of air conditioning in restaurants, the construction of walk-in pools and even an emphasis on teaching English in schools, all of which work to improve the experience of visitors from the U.S.
This emphasis on American arrivals can be seen in its airports too, where efforts are underway to make the customs process for those traveling through Punta Cana International—the nation’s most used airport by far—much easier for U.S. citizens. It also doesn’t hurt that the dollar has been getting consistently stronger against the Dominican peso, making it one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations.
Naturally, these changes are also felt at the local level, as both the government and private sector have in many ways gone all in on tourism. Between 2016 and 2019, approximately 18,000 new hotel rooms will open in the Dominican Republic, a fact that has undeniable economic consequences.
While the argument has certainly been made that tourism marketing helps gloss over issues such as poverty and damages from natural disasters, many see the arriving income—and people—as a way to deal with these problems, not ignore them.
“The people in the resorts still consume local products,” Hombolm says. “So the guy that’s selling tomatoes actually directly benefits from an increase of arrivals—it’s a bigger market.”
Isamis Santana, a native Dominican who now works with nonprofit organization Maranatha Mission and La Romana’s Good Samaritan Hospital, was practically brought up in the hospitality industry. Santana, who studied hotel management in college and worked at different resorts before finally settling into his current job, also believes the effects of tourism are highly positive.
Aside from the simple economic benefits, such as jobs and revenue, that vacationers bring, Santana also notes the awareness to these economic problems that comes with increased exposure to the country. For example, the nonprofit for which Santana works brings in about 85 groups per year to perform charity and mission work in the country’s intensely poor bateyes, resulting in a very direct form of aid that stems from forming a connection with foreign tourists.
“We have people that have been coming for 20 years, 30 years. And the impact of the relationship is enormous,” Santana says.
Photo: Kenny Mitchell, CC-BY
Beachside resorts are king in the Dominican Republic, but La Romana’s Casa de Campo stands tall above all others. From golf and watersports to preserved 16th century architecture to 21 different dining and drinking experiences, this all-inclusive hotel has the resort experience down pat.
However, there are a number of other hotels, each seemingly as scenic and extravagant as the last; Tortuga Bay, Paradius Palma Real and Punta Canta’s Secrets Royal Beach are some notable examples.
It’s not just beaches and armchairs, though. The Dominican Republic is full of ecotourism highlights—especially in the north, where travelers can find breathtaking mountains and some of the country’s 16 national parks. In the South, Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, offers a resurfacing set of cultural draws, ranging from cafes and nightclubs to explorations into the city’s colonial history.
Flight Rates: Current round-trip flights from Miami to Punta Cana range from as low as $350 to around $900 on the higher end, while trips from more distant cities—such as Los Angeles—can be found for between $550 and $1,050.
The U.S. State Department warns of the dangers of crimes such as theft when traveling to the Dominican Republic, and recommends travelers avoid wearing items of significant value.
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 46.5 Dominican pesos
Go Dominican Republic is the country’s official tourism website, which breaks down information by region and recommends a number of different activities and experiences.
Top photo: Joe de Sousa, CC-BY
Dillon Thompson is University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.