Construction dominates the tourism scene in the Dominican Republic these days. Cranes can be seen and jackhammers heard from Puerto Plata in the north to Barahona and Punta Cana on the south coast.

We are attracting a lot of high-end investors, said Luis Simo, deputy minister of tourism. In fact, tourism is the leader in foreign investments and represents 40% of our countrys economy right now.

Total foreign investment grew 43.8% from January through June this year, compared with the first six months of 2004, increasing from $341.1 million to $490.8 million, Simo said.

On the infrastructure front, a new international airport will open in Samana, on the east coast, in early 2007. 

The Dominican Republic government will invest more than $600 million over the next three years in its road network.

Plans include improvements to the Coral Highway to reduce travel time between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana from four to two hours and construction of a highway between Samana province and Santo Domingo, reducing that drive from four to two hours.

The government also plans to build a new aqueduct in the Punta Cana area to increase water capacity to residences and resorts.

Paralleling the growth in investment is an increase in visitor arrivals, which jumped 8.3% to 2.2 million from January through August over the same period a year earlier.

Simo said that only Cuba had a higher growth rate in the Caribbean region.

New markets

Another barometer of growth is the increase in tour operations. Apple Vacations, one of the largest operators to the Dominican Republic, increased its volume by more than 15% in 2005, according to Simo.

The U.S. and several European countries -- including Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the Scandinavian nations -- remain the destinations largest markets and are still growing.

For example, Simo reported that approximately 500,000 French tourists visited in 2005, a 7% annual increase.

However, there are also some newcomers eyeing Dominican sun and sand.

New source markets that emerged this year and promise to show strength in 2006 and beyond included Russia, which sent 20,000 tourists on 39 charter flights this year from Moscow.

In addition, two charter flights arrived from the Czech Republic last winter, as did several from Brazil, where a new Dominican Republic tourism promotion office has opened in Sao Paulo.

Up in the air

Scheduled airlift and capacity also are on the rise.

Continental Airlines added two weekly flights from Houston to Punta Cana, supplementing existing service out of Newark, and Spirit Airlines began nonstop daily service from Fort Lauderdale to Punta Cana on Dec. 10.

American Airlines was expected to surpass the million-passenger mark this year on flights to the Dominican Republic, a destination it has served for 30 years. The carrier currently operates 30 daily flights to five gateways in the destination.

As part of its thrust toward greater visibility in the U.S. market, the Dominican Republic will pump $16 million into a promotional campaign focused on high-end niche markets, such as golf and scuba as well as the innate cultural and ethnic diversity of the destination, Simo said.

Our goal is to show the diversity of the destination in areas such as black heritage, art and religion, he said. We are a country of many colors. 

For more information on travel to the Dominican Republic, visit the ministryof tourism Web site at www.godominicanrepublic.com. Or, contact the tourism boards U.S. offices in New York at (212) 588-1012 or (888) 374-6361; in Miami, at (305) 444-4592 or (888) 358-9594; in Chicago, at (773) 529-1336 or (888) 303-1336; in Houston, at (281) 875-3888 or (866) 752-5200; in Laguna Niguel, Calif., at (949) 363-8520; or in San Juan at (787) 722-0881.   

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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