Publish in Perspectives - Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Santo Domingo is undergoing a transformation as a tourism and business destination due to a renovation of the historical Colonial center (above) and new hotels like the Hilton Embassy Suites and the JW Marriott. (Photo: Mgallery)
The JW Marriott Santo Domingo is scheduled to open in August 2014. (Photo: JW Marriott)
Good infrastructure, open skies, aggressive promotion and legal incentives boost Dominican tourism sector.
BY ENRIQUE DE MARCHENA KALUCHE
In answer to a kind invitation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua, I was preparing a speech entitled "The Past and present of tourism development in the Dominican Republic - Contributions of a successful experience" and I began reflecting on the main achievements by the public sector in the development of the tourism industry over the past decade.
I came to the conclusion that the main successful public policies to consider are: 1. Proper investments by the Dominican government in road infrastructure, particularly state of the art highways; 2. Open skies aviation policies and open immigration policy for tourism; 3. An increased budget for tourism promotion as revenues increased from the industry; 4. Legislation encouraging the development of the tourism sector, which has not only kept up to date through its amendments but has also contributed to our competitiveness as an investment destination; policies whose results show the importance of investing in the country's main export sector, the largest producer of foreign currency (US$5.1 billion) and the leading source of direct and indirect jobs.
Let’s look at this more closely. The positive effects of the modern highway and boulevard connecting the capital city to the tourist hubs of Romana-Bayahíbe and Punta Cana-Ubero Alto have yet to be appreciated in all their glory, and it stands to reason because the best has yet to come! Although to a lesser degree, the same goes for the Juan Pablo II Highway linking the capital city to the northeast of the country from Playa Grande all the way to Samana.
For example, by reducing travel time from Santo Domingo to Bavaro to a couple of hours and considering more than 300,000 vehicles a year travel that route let’s think of the benefits stemming from the reduction in annual imports of fuel, parts and spare for the country.
When I say the best has yet to come I mean that the city of Santo Domingo is undergoing a transformation as a tourism and business destination, not just because of the IDB-MITUR project for the historical Colonial center, but also for the renovation of its hotel industry that began with the construction of the Hilton Hotel a few years ago, followed by the Holiday Inn. As such, the Hilton Embassy Suites and the JW Marriott will be opening this year. Likewise, the Sheraton has been upgraded with the facilities now synonymous with this prestigious brand, the Renassaince Jaragua is currently closed for renovation and other hotels in the city are getting ready to do likewise.
A new trend in hotel deals in the Colonial city is now flourishing, combining the idea of boutique hotels with the historical architectural heritage of this part of the capital city, the Nicolás de Ovando, the Francés and Mercure from the Accor chain, and more recently Hotel Billini, are among them.
The obvious contrast is the increase in the flow of tourists to the Eastern seaboard which receives more than 65 percent of foreign air passengers through Punta Cana and La Romana international airports, as well as the increase in the MICE sector, i.e. the meetings and conventions sector. Admittedly, there is an urgent need for a conference center in Santo Domingo city.
For its part, the airline industry has its ups and downs, affected by high fuel costs, equipment efficiency, cheap airlines, aeronautical charges and other factors. The scheduled airlines that once seemed to have a monopoly in the country are still on the national scene but not as dominant as before. Proper open sky policies not only allowed us to face the fact that we do not have an internationally competitive national airline, but also allowed us to expand the tourism business. In 2005, we received 53,090 scheduled flights and 16,969 charter flights (73,059 air operations). In 2013, we received 72,360 scheduled flights and 12,335 charter flights (84,695 air operations); and increase of more than 15 percent. Likewise, the immigration policy for tourism has been in tune with the development of the sector. Citizens from more than 125 countries can travel to the country by simply buying a tourism visa. These countries include the main outbound markets such as the USA, Canada, France, Germany and Russia.
Our budget for advertising and marketing - which for years was a pittance compared to other Caribbean nations - was US$22 million in 2005 and reached US$58 million in 2013, allowing us to compete and succeed. This is an example of how the highest state authorities have matured in their attitude towards this smokeless industry.
Significant in all of this was the boost in 2001 given by Law 58-01 on Tourism Development and its recent amendment, especially the impact of including the entire national territory and thus the city of Santo Domingo and extending tax incentives to 15 years in order to be internationally competitive.
We are now waiting for the application regulations to be passed, which MITUR and ASONAHORES have already approved. These regulations, among others, should establish the rules that apply to renovating hotels that are 5 or more years old and to reconstructing or remodeling hotel installations more than 15 years old throughout the country.
We can safely say that the Dominican government has been successful in applying the public policies I mentioned earlier. It has permanent tasks such as the issue of safety and health in tourist areas, and others pending, such as reconciling the interests of the Executive Branch in the tourism sector with the knowledge, understanding and interests of the Municipal Power; interests that are conflicting and often detrimental to the proper development of the industry and specific municipalities.
Finally, when we look at the country as one single tourism destination we come to the conclusion that we are only waiting for someone to give the South a leg up and fortunately it appears that the government and private sector are willing to make this happen.
So I believe I can and will say that the outlook for the Dominican tourism industry is looking VERY BRIGHT!
Enrique De Marchena Kaluche is Past President of
Central Law and its Managing Partner in the Dominican Republic.
Originally published in Listin Diario. Republished with permission from the author.