Santiago, D. R. Cigar RollerIn Travel Leaders Group's list of Top 10 international destinations for 2014, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, came in at No. 7 among the agents surveyed.

It slipped a notch from 2013, when it had been ranked No. 6 but matched the ranking of 2012 and moved up from 2011, when the destination was in ninth place.

Melissa Gutting of Travel Leaders in River Falls, Wis., cited the value that the D.R. offers her clients.

"The beaches are beautiful, and the resorts are large, with many restaurants, bars and activities," she said. "In the last couple of years, this has been my No. 1 destination for destination weddings."

Echoing her sentiments, Nora Blum with Travel Leaders in Maple Grove, Minn., said, "A number of my clients choose the Dominican Republic for its beaches, weather and the wide variety of high-quality, all-inclusive resorts." Blum said the D.R. offers a change of pace from other all-inclusive resort-based vacations in Mexico or Jamaica, thanks to "relatively modern resort choices at very moderate prices."

Karen Malone of Travel Leaders in Woodbury, Minn., credited the D.R.'s growing popularity to increased airlift by Delta Air Lines from the Twin Cities.

In Houston, Michelle Weller, director of operations for Travel Leaders there, described Punta Cana as "hot."

Melia Caribe Tropical The Level Pool"Many of our clients have been to Cabo San Lucas and Cancun numerous times," Weller said. "When Punta Cana began offering all-inclusive options, it started to become 'hot' for us." By last year, she said, it had become "the No. 2 destination for us."

She said she has noticed that, in addition to Punta Cana's all-inclusives, the Westin Puntacana Resort & Club is also growing in popularity.

Alex Kutin, owner of Travel Leaders in Indianapolis, books clients to several Caribbean islands, including the Dominican Republic.

"What makes the D.R. so attractive is price, air schedules, a variety of resorts for every budget and family group and great beaches," Kutin said.

The agency's best-sellers are Riu's resorts in Puerto Plata and Punta Cana, Iberostar Punta Cana and Majestic Elegance, also in Punta Cana.

Consistent weather, beautiful beaches, value and ease of access from Minneapolis/St. Paul during the winter months are key factors for Denise Petricka, vice president of Travel Leaders in Eau Claire and Black River Falls, Wis.

"Often our agents are comparing prices between the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean islands, with the D.R. coming in with a better value for our clients' travel dollars," Petricka said.

Sue Tindell, owner of Travel Leaders in Rice Lake, Wis., echoed that refrain.

"For our market [Minneapolis/St. Paul], it is the lure of sun and sand during the long winter months, plus the advantage of nonstop flights," Tindell said.

Tacoma, Wash.-based Travel Leaders reported "a huge surge in travel to the Dominican Republic, mostly due to the discounted pricing offered by resorts," according to Alex Trettin, president.

"The dozens of large, brand-name resorts in Punta Cana offer a lot of different choices," Trettin said. "We try and fit our customers' needs and personalities to the resorts that suit them best."

The Dominican Republic, he said, "is a great upcoming destination with a lot to offer at a very reasonable price."

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.


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