The fourteenth edition of the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) met from April 23rd to the 25th at the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort and Convention Center in the mega-popular resort destination of Punta Cana on the Dominican Republic’s east coast.
The Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES), with support from the Ministry of Tourism, created DATE in the year 2000 to fill the need for an event to highlight the Dominican tourism product by providing a professionally organized business exchange for international wholesalers, tour operators, incentive groups, airlines, and charter operators (buyers) to meet and conduct business with the Dominican Republic’s leading tourism suppliers of beach-side resorts, sightseeing, adventure tourism and transportation.
Not surprisingly for the Dominican Republic, the number of participants keeps increasing, reflecting the quality, variety and depth of the Dominican tourism product and the success of DATE.
This year 120 buyer companies attended with 209 delegates compared to last year’s 109 buyer companies with 180 delegates.
Selling the Dominican Republic vacation line were 130 supplier companies with 362 delegates, compared to last year’s 93 supplier companies and 295 delegates.
This year there were 4,305 appointments compared to last year’s 4,134.
Success breeds success.
Investing the Big Bucks
“Today belongs to the future,” says Radhames Martinez Aponte, technical vice minister at the Ministry of Tourism. The ministry hopes to attract 10 million visitors a year by 2023, which would represent a dramatic jump from the current 4.6 million. They will do this with more bucks.
“The Ministry has started its campaign by allocating US$13.3 million now, for 2013, the largest budget in our tourism history,” he added.
An effort like this starts by familiarizing the buyer delegates to the diversity of tourism products within the Dominican Republic—which is to say, the fun is also off the beach. This effort was spearheaded at DATE by “clusters.” Each tourism area is organized into associations of hotels, restaurants and attractions to market their destination. Each, not surprisingly, has its own character.
Puerto Plata has beach-side Playa Dorada, the giant hotel complex of 10 hotels with its par 72, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. golf course. The city is also knee-deep in New World history.
It was founded by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his first voyage. The first European settlement in the New World, La Isabela, is not far west. In 1563, the Englishman, Sir John Hawkins, came into the port and traded 400 people from Africa for hides, sugar and gold. This was the start of the slave trade in the New World. A nearby mountain has the only cable car in the Caribbean. The views are b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. At the top is a botanical garden.
To learn more about Puerto Plata and meet tourism business people, attend Discover Puerto Plata Market Place 2013 from October 16 to 18 at the Be Live Grand Marien. For June through September, all-inclusive rack rates range from $177.00 for a standard room d/o to $379.00 for a junior suite, occupied by four.
Tomas Callender, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Sosúa y Cabarete, discussed creating a new image for these two, 20+ year-old, beach-side resort towns. Not only does Sosua have its crystal clear waters where tourists can snorkel or SCUBA from the shore, and its Jewish settlement history from the 1930s, but along with Cabarete, famed for its surfing, windsurfing and kite boarding, both share a mountainous countryside with trekking, horseback riding, dirt biking, hang gliding, white water rafting and a host of other activities. “Both,” he says, “share the free Dominican Republic Jazz Festival. In short, we have more than enough to satisfy all types of tourists.”
Lesser known and a stupendously beautiful destination is the Samana peninsula, now serviced by Jet Blue. Samana’s annual visitation by humpback whales from February to mid-April is a major tourism draw. So too is its unspoiled countryside with more than seven million coconut palm trees. Hotels to consider: Balcones del Atlántico, rates to December 19 range from $299.00 for a one bedroom suite for two, up to $789.00 for a four bedroom suite for eight people. All units include breakfast.
The Bannister Hotel, a AAA “4 Diamond” award and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is nestled between the mountains and the sea. This luxury hotel focuses on good taste, high quality, tranquility and splendor. Its 31 suites range from $161.00 to $248.00 from June through August.
The grand slam of historic cities in the Western Hemisphere is Santo Domingo. No beach. But what it lacks in beach, it way over-compensates for in atmosphere, history and shopping. These are its firsts: cathedral, university, hospital, courthouse and named street, all concentrated in the 500 year-old historic district with cobbled streets that were walked on by the Conquistadors like Ponce de Leon and Vasco de Gama.
Twice a year it has Colonial Fest, once in June and another in October, which is a celebration of the traditions, music and art of the Dominican Republic. It is like a Renaissance Fair. But unlike a Renaissance fair, when you visit this you are in the place where the “colonial” took place.
One of the best ways for a client to get the feel of history during this event is by staying in the 500 year-old building of the 40, modernized rooms of the Palacio Hotel, smack-dab in the center of the historic district within walking distance of fine restaurants, concerts, street fairs and museums.
When they step out of this building, your customers are not in make-believe, they are in the real thing. It is like walking into history. From June through August, rack rates start at $96.00 for a standard room with a queen bed, $170.00 for a two room suite with Jacuzzi d/o. Rated #5 by TripAdvisor of 69 hotels in Santo Domingo. Dining is in the courtyard.
For the shoppers there are a variety of arts and crafts galleries, including cigar making, and the city’s great malls: Plaza Central, Acropolis Center and Mega Centro, the second largest mall in the Caribbean.
The top of the charts for who’s new goes to Eden Roc at Cap Cana. Having just opened on December 15, 2012, it has already soared to second place in TripAdvisor out of the 99 reviewed hotels in Punta Cana—a remarkable achievement for less than five months in business. Someone is doing something right.
Let’s start with the food. “Our objective,” says Daniele Trombacco, director of sales and marketing, “is to establish a destination for culinary enthusiasts to occupy our 34 suites who appreciate the intricacies of fine cuisine. Our four restaurants provide distinct experiences while always presenting beautifully crafted offerings that exceed guest expectations.”
The restaurant’s menu, which exudes a journey of flavors and ingredients from Mediterranean cultures, blends local ingredients with specialties flown in from artisanal suppliers from Europe.
This hotel joins a few others in Cap Cana whose hallmark has been excellence. Since its inception, the resort community of Cap Cana has billed itself as the world’s next great destination. Though there were times when it did not look like it had staying power, it has very definitely matured like a fine vintage wine. Cap Cana is all about a luxury life style vacation retreat—no compromise.
This is true with other luxury hotels, Sanctuary, Golden Bear Lodge and the Fishing Lodge. And so it will be with Punta Palmera, which is opening June 15<sup>th</sup>. It has 34 ocean view units from junior to 4-bedroom suites ranging in price from $200.00 to $525.00 through August 15.
Bavaro Runners has been operating safari-style tours in Punta Cana (zip lines as well), Puerto Plata, La Romana and Samana for about 20 years. Its latest addition is Monkeyland opening tis summer in Punta Cana back in the hills and rain forest. The tour will include playing with and feeding the 20 squirrel monkeys and touring a botanical garden. Rates have not been settled yet, but will be in the $50.00 range, including transportation from hotel.
And They Came With Purpose
One of the regular buyers at DATE is Jeffrey Lee, the Caribbean Product Director at Pleasant Holidays in Westlake Village, CA. Pleasant Holidays has participated in DATE every year since it launched its Caribbean portfolio in 2008, making six consecutive years of participation.
Like most all the buyers, they come to reacquaint themselves with the resorts they currently offer their clientele and see what is new. Which is his favorite? “It’s difficult to pick just one,” he says, “but I’d have to say I was really impressed with how the Hard Rock Punta Cana artfully blends the vibrant Hard Rock experience within a relaxing resort atmosphere. It truly offers something for all generations to enjoy.”