PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic -- Tourism in the Dominican Republic continues to grow despite setbacks in 2009.

Several development projects, which stalled last year due to the global economic crisis, are chugging back to life; arrival numbers increased this winter over last; and airlift is expanding.

Tourism officials at the annual Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange put a positive spin on their forecasts for the next six months and into 2011.

By 2009 standards, the D.R. fared pretty well. The destination was just one of three countries in the region (Cuba and Jamaica were the other two) to record visitor increases.

Figures topped out at more than 1.1 million, slightly above 2008's numbers.

Figures for March show a 3.5% jump in stayover arrivals over March 2009, according to the Ministry of Tourism, which expects a 4% overall increase this year.

In addition, the ministry is experiencing renewed interest from developers after the lull following the global financial crisis.

Still, challenges remain, which officials were quick to acknowledge.

"We have more than 65,000 hotel rooms in the D.R., and 35,000 of them are in the Punta Cana area on the east coast," said Enrique de Marchena, a board member of the country's National Association of Hotels and Restaurants and president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.

"Occupancies may be good, but the average revenue per room in many hotels is way down because hoteliers dropped rates to build traffic in 2009," he said.
Another challenge is creating awareness among travelers of the diverse tourist regions throughout the country.

"Punta Cana is doing well, but that doesn't mean that Puerto Plata [on the north coast] is," he said.

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