Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

PUNTA CANA -- While tourism officials in the Dominican Republic touted the destination's booming visitor numbers at the country's annual tourism conference here last week, it also was refreshing to hear them acknowledge challenges that lie ahead.

Being at the top isn't always easy, according to Simon Suarez, president of Asonahores, the National Hotel & Tourism Association.

The destination is definitely booming. Stayover arrivals have grown 8% year-to-date this year compared with the same period of 2015, and it clocked 5.6 million stayover arrivals in 2015 overall, a growth of 5.8% compared with 2014. By comparison, the Caribbean recorded an overall growth rate of 3.7% in 2015.

The country is projected to reach six million visitors this year, based on numbers thus far and is on track to meet the targeted 7% growth needed to achieve it, Suarez said.

“After 40 years of tourism, it is time to review where we are going and to define how effective our industry will be in the years to come,” he said.

Challenges, coupled with opportunities, include a geographic expansion to promote areas of the D.R. other than the top resort areas of Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Samana and La Romana, according to Suarez.

“We have to enter into other markets, such as adventure travel, nature, luxury, ecotourism and sports tourism and go beyond our sun-and-beach image,” he said.

He pointed to the partnership between the private sector and the government, citing tax incentives for hotel investors and massive investments in road construction and improvement projects.

Echoing Suarez's remarks, Radames Martinez Aponte, vice minister of tourism, called for preserving the goose that laid the golden egg.

“We pride ourselves on offering something for every type of traveler and budget, but we cannot rest on our laurels," Martinez Aponte said. "Attracting new markets, continuing to renovate existing properties and build new ones, offering tour products for returning visitors and cruise passengers and improving infrastructure are high priorities."

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