Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Tourism in the Dominican Republic took a plunge recently with media coverage of deaths of several U.S. tourists at the end of May and in early June, but the picture looks brighter now.

By late June, air bookings to the D.R. had rallied and were exceeding cancellations, according to ForwardKeys.

Tourism was riding high in the country for the first six months of the year, despite the June downturn. The D.R., which welcomed 6.6 million visitors in 2018, with more than half hailing from the U.S. and Canada, still appears headed for another record year, according to Luis Ernesto Camilo, the director of the Civil Aviation Board.

The agency reported that 7.9 million passengers moved through the country's airports from January through June, a 4.8% year-over-year.

To gauge the impact of the recent events, I checked with several high-end hotels and resorts regarding any falloff or uptick in recent bookings.

The Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando Hotel, a 92-room boutique property in the heart of Santo Domingo's Colonial Zone, has not seen a drop in bookings, according to Alvar Ojeda, its general manager.

"Our numbers are running according to the city's expected occupancy for the summer season," Ojeda said. (He added that three new package promotions, for romantics, foodies and business travelers, were not correlated to recent news reports but were scheduled as part of the property's overall sales and marketing strategy.)

Room revenue is up 14%, and the average daily rate (ADR) is up 15% year-to-date, he said.

"The rest of the year's forecast is in line with our budget execution, and our advance reservations on the books are behaving as budgeted," he said. "Our plan of action continues in full force according to our increase in ADR targets, and we look forward to a successful second half of 2019."

Casa de Campo Resort & Villas in La Romana on the country's east coast reported that bookings "are pacing ahead this summer through September versus the same time last year," according to Jason Kycek, its senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Our short-term pacing has thankfully remained strong, and we have already made our 2019 revenue budget for the year."

Booking for the resort's 2020 fiscal year, which begins in October, are ahead of last year at this same time, despite several group cancellations for next February and March.

"We currently have more than 10,000 room nights on the books, but I don't want to paint a perfect picture, because we have been minimally affected, but thankfully will still have a strong year despite the challenges that the D.R. is facing," Kycek said.

Bookings for the January-to-June timeframe for the Santo Domingo-based Mint Hotels & Residences, a boutique brand of five, independently owned properties located throughout the country, are ahead of last year, according to Miguelina Butron, partner and vice president of sales and marketing.

"We are maintaining our current projections for 2019, which were done at the end of 2018," she said.
Butron said that occupancies increased 12% in the April-to-June period versus the same time last year, and ADR is holding steady, with increases between 3% and 5%.

Current reservations tend to be last minute, which Butron said is normal for this time of year for Mint.

"The Dominican Republic has always had great awareness in the tourism industry and a great trajectory of growth," she said. "We don't believe that these recent isolated and extremely unfortunate cases will destroy or damage what we have been building for more than 50 years.

"Tourism is a growing industry worldwide, but particularly in this country because of its natural resources, the ongoing development of new offerings and the inviting environment for foreign and local investments," she added. "Tourism growth won't stop in the Dominican Republic or at Mint. It is part of our DNA.

At Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts, where investigations are ongoing into the deaths of several guests at three of its 13 properties, "currently all of our properties are operating as normal," said Helen Montijano, vice president of sales and marketing in the U.S./Canada markets. "We are not seeing a serious impact in terms of overall bookings.

"We're truly appreciative of our guests' continued support and collaboration through these times and have assured all our guests with current bookings that our resorts are safe," she said.

"We have tremendous respect for the authorities handling the investigations  and are hopeful that they will be able to provide answers to the grieving families soon."

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