Saturday, April 21, 2012

It’s a Date in the Dominican Republic

April 2012 -  Melanie Reffes

An annual event, Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) celebrated its lucky thirteenth year in April at the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort Convention Center in Punta Cana. Sponsored by The Hotel and Tourism Association of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES), DATE is the premier trade show in the DR attracting buyers, sellers, movers and shakers from both the public sector and the private arena. Airline sponsors included American Airlines, US Airways, Delta and JetBlue.

Access Dominican Republic  (credit: M. Reffes  )

Trade show ( credit: M. Reffes )

 Boasting one of the largest convention centers in the Caribbean, Barceló Bávaro Convention Center is a stand-out with twenty-four meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 5,000 people. “We are honored to host the Dominican Republic’s most important and influential tourism event,” said Pedro Parets, director, “DATE is an opportunity to showcase our country’s one-of-a-kind offerings while bringing together the industry professionals who are dedicated to continually growing the tourism industry.” 

Barcelo Bavaro Resort complex ( credit: Barcelo Resorts) 

 Through 3,785 pre-arranged appointments, trade show marketplace and lively evening fiestas, buyers from the US, Canada, Europe, Latin America and Russia did business with wholesalers, tour operators, hoteliers, airline representatives, excursion operators and car rental companies. Buyers included Apple Vacations, Expedia, JetBlue, MLT Vacations, and Orbitz Worldwide.   Recorded as the best year yet, 345 suppliers and 229 buyers attended representing 119 supplier companies and 108 buying companies.
Opening night party ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Sunny Optimism
Proud as a peacock, the DR reported its highest growth from January to March than in any previous year. According to Francisco Javier García, minister of tourism, the perennially popular vacation destination welcomed nearly 1.4 million tourists showing an eight percent spike compared to the same period last year with Punta Cana accounting for 62% of arrivals. ”Our tourism product is more consolidated, it's stronger and it has better energy than ever before," he said referring to growth from the US that increased by fourteen percent, "some factors for the increase are our country's natural features and our gastronomy and the second aspect is the friendly way Dominicans treat our tourists."

Bayahibe ( credit: Tourist Board) 

Dominican Delectables ( credit: Tourist Board ) 
Fort San Felipe ( credit: Tourist Board) 

Samaná, in the northeast region, is the new Caribbean ‘cool’ with tourist arrivals jumping 22% in January and February, higher than the resort towns of Puerto Plata and La Romana. Catey Airport received 19,869 tourists or 5,621 more than in the same period last year, while hotel occupancy climbed 2.1% over last year. “Samana’s position has improved with the completion of the Tourist Boulevard of the Atlantic which links the entire Samaná province with Santo Domingo and the Las Americas Airport, “noted Fabeth Martinez, director, tourism.  New in the region, The Pirate Adventure Park features a zip-line with twelve platforms   that whisks visitors 400 feet in the air for panoramic views of the surrounding forest and sea .

Humpback Whale Watching ( credit: Tourist Board ) 
El Estillero ( credit: Tourist Board ) 

 Opening in August, a new highway “El Coral” will connect Santo Domingo to Punta Cana reducing travel time to less than two hours, half the time it takes now to drive that distance.  Nearly forty-four miles long, the highway will also connect the capital city to the international airports in the eastern part of the country including Bayahibe and La Romana.

Big on the Beach
 An expensive facelift coming in at USD$330 million transformed the Barcelo Resorts into one resort complex comprised of two properties rather than the five properties in its previous carnation.   The massive transformation resulted in the 391-room adults-only Barceló Bávaro Beach hotel and 1600- room family-friendly Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe. Renovations included refreshed rooms with rain-style showers, balcony hot tubs , high-end entertainment system, three-hundred brand new rooms in the Golf wing of the Palace Deluxe, redesigned lobby and Club Premium lounge, two spirited bars, three international restaurants and newly built pool areas.    “Guests are happier with this consolidation of hotels from five to two, “said Diana Daza, sales coordinator, “our Facebook feedback indicates the success of reducing the complex to just two hotels.”

Barcelo Deluxe ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Plenty of fine dining at the Palace Deluxe includes eleven restaurants with eight requiring advance reservations. Choices are many and vary from the spectacularly sumptuous Bohio Dominicano buffet   open from 7 am to 10 pm, El Coral for seafood, La Dolce Vita with its Hollywood-inspired décor of posters of famous Italian movie stars and the Kyoto eatery for artisan sushi and sake.
Palace Deluxe guestroom ( credit: Barcelo Resorts )  
On-site amenities at both resorts include a P.B. Dye 18-hole golf course which at 6,655 yards from the professional tees is the most-visited course in the Bávaro and Punta Cana area, cigar and rum bar, sixteen-store shopping promenade, Vegas-style theater, 24-hour casino and U Spa with thirty therapists and seventeen treatment rooms open from 7 am for early risers. “For couples, “says Irena Moracic, spa manager, “the Romantic Escapes package is our big seller at $199.00 for seventy-five minutes of rubdowns with coconut oil and chocolate cream.” Weddings are big business with ceremonies on the beach the big draw for couples. “We do thirty weddings a month seaside, “says Diana Daza, sales coordinator, “sunset is the most requested although our staff can organize a wedding anytime from 11 in the morning until 6 pm.” For the younger set, the new Barcy Water Park and Kids Club is a showstopper with a swashbuckling pirate ship, video games on gigantic screens and wading pools.  Admission to the Water Park is $10.00 per person.

Barcy Water Park ( credit: M. Reffes) 

Barcelo Golf Course ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Twenty-five percent off early reservations for a four-night stay through December includes a $1,000 credit, per room. “We welcome shoulder season bookings,” said Claudio A. Zboznovits, vice-president, sales and marketing,  “by giving travelers a credit and early booking discounts through the end of the year, we’re offering  consumers an opportunity to experience the expansive amenities that the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort has to offer. ”

At Casa de Campo, ‘Casa Families ‘is the aptly named package for travel through September 30. Children stay, eat and play for free and when the all-inclusive supplement is added, guests receive a fifty percent reduction on an adjoining room for children and grandparents.  Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea on one side and the winding Chavon River on the other, this enclave has been the favored escape for financial moguls, politicos and Hollywood’s elite. Signature add-ons include personal carritos or four-passenger touring carts while an array of restaurants serve a variety from steak and seafood to sushi and sandwiches.

Casa de Campo (credit: CdC resorts) 
Our unique variety and high quality facilities make selling this resort a breeze, “says Kim Hutchinson, director of marketing , family vacations can be whatever the family wants them to be from  a learning vacation to a cultural adventure touring the museums, art galleries and artisan workshops at our Altos de Chavon village.”

Main Lobby Casa de Campo ( credit: CdC resorts )  
Sirenis Aquagames Punta Cana is open at the Sirenis Cocotal Beach Resort and the Sirenis Tropical Suites Casino. The new waterpark includes a swimming pool, restaurants, speed slides, tower with water tubes and a children’s area with jets and sprinklers.

The First Date

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is making their landmark debut in the DR with the opening of the 204-room Westin Punta Cana Resort at the resort complex called Punta Cana Resort and Club. Construction will begin this summer with an opening scheduled for December 2013. “The new resort will offer all of the Westin brand’s signature programs and amenities, designed to send guests home feeling better than when they arrived, “noted Brian Povinelli, manager, Global Brands. Close to the Punta Cana airport, the resort will offer sixteen suites, wedding planners, cigar bar, business center and walking trails. Guests will have access to the amenities available at the Punta Cana Resort & Club which includes three miles of sandy beaches, 45-holes of championship golf, nine restaurants and the Six Senses Spa. “The opening of The Westin Puntacana underscores the rapid proliferation of the Westin resorts portfolio in sought-after destinations across the globe,” said Simon Turner, president, Starwood Hotels Worldwide,  “Westin boasts brand awareness well ahead of its competitive set and phenomenal international growth, with more than 90% of its new hotels and resorts opening outside of North America.” The Westin Puntacana will be the second Starwood property to open in the DR. A 425-room Four Points by Sheraton will open near the Punta Cana airport on October 4.

More new hotels announced by Pablo Pinero, owner of Grupo Pinero, the largest hotel chain in the country and owners of the Bahia Principe Resorts. “We are opening seven new resorts over the next five years including a new property in Montego Bay, one in Riviera Maya and five in the DR. Our growth in the DR will increase tourism to the country by eight to ten million people each year and create more than 3,000 new jobs.”  Three resorts will be built in Punta Cana and two in Playa Nueva Romana  Noting an investment of USD250 million dollars, Pinero added he ‘expects to consolidate his leadership in tourism in the Caribbean for the next decade. ‘

In Iberostar news, the 347-room Dominicana resort has renovated all rooms and the casino and continues to be a popular sell by MLT Vacations, Apple Vacations and GoGo. “We encourage travel agents to see this spectacular resort, “ said Catalina Montoya, marketing manager,  “ agent FAMS are frequent and popular and we encourage agents to visit the property because they will depart with an intent to book it for their clients. “

Catalina Montoya, Iberostar ( credit: M. Reffes )
AMResorts is beefing up their appeal to American tourists with the addition of English-language training for their staff and brand names at their restaurants from Heinz and Yoplait to Kellogg. “Our guests do not like surprises on a vacation, “said Lehia McGillen, marketing coordinator,  “our staff is tested in English and with the addition of brand names in our restaurants, we are assured our guests will feel comfortable.”  AMR operate seven properties in the DR including Secrets Royal Beach which added a spa and new block of rooms. “To encourage travel agent bookings, “she added, “we offer a 10% commission via our website and reduced room rates for agents who want to come down and relax for a few days.”

Lehia McGillen, AMResorts ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Locally-owned, Dominican Treasures is a new environmentally-astute excursion company offering packages in eco-lodges, tours to artisan communities and water sports activities. “We are especially proud of our Chocolate tours which take travelers to our cocoa farms and to meet our chefs who use this natural resource in delicious creations,” said Yira Vermenton, owner.

Yira Vermenton, Dominican Treasures (credit: M. Reffes ) 
 Also introducing tourists to the authentic DR, Country Adventure Safari sells tours to Saona Island, a quiet isle sitting forty minutes north of Punta Cana. “This popular day trip includes a catamaran sail, horseback riding and visits to public schools so that our guests can interact with local Dominicans, “said William Grove, director, “many tourists coming here express an interest in getting away from the resort, if only for a day or two.”

William Grove, Country Adventure Safari  (credit: M. Reffes) 

 Make A Date

Frontier Airlines will offer nonstop seasonal Saturday flights between Denver International Airport (DEN) and Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) from June 9 through August 4.

La Romana International Airport (LRM) and Punta Cana International Airport (PJU) are serviced by American Airlines via Miami, direct flights via Puerto Rico through American Eagle as well as other major US and international carriers.

                             DATE 2012          (credit: M. Reffes) 

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