At the recent Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange held in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic tourism officials outlined plans to grow tourism industry revenues to $4 billion within the next six years through aggressive infrastructure improvements and targeted promotions.
The annual forum attracted 299 suppliers and 157 buyers, an increase over 2009 numbers.
"We are formulating a national strategy of what our tourism should be," said Deputy Minister of Tourism Radhames Martinez. "We need better roads, signage and landscaping. We need to educate our people on the importance of recycling. The Ministry of the Environment is developing plans in that area."
The plan includes connecting rural areas with main tourist centers, using eco-friendly villages along the way to introduce visitors to chocolate factories, sugarcane production and coffee plantations.
"We want to develop and promote regions within the overall destination," Martinez said.
The government granted tax incentives for 58 new hotel projects last October, although no timelines, hotel brands or developers have yet been named.
"Several projects which came to a standstill last year are starting to reactivate," the minister said.
Some came to fruition before last year's end.
Los Corales Golf Course at the Punta Cana Resort & Club was completed in December, although the formal opening took place April 15. It is the second course at the resort, with three more in the works.
The 362-room NH Royal Beach opened last December as an adults-only, all-inclusive, high-end property.
That property is next door to the NH Real Arena, a 450-room, family-oriented resort.
The NH hotel chain, with 400 hotels in 22 countries, has plans for Soto Grande at Cap Cana, which will include a residential development and a luxury, 200-room boutique hotel.
"We've got the land, but nothing is on the drawing boards right now," said Juan Perez Sosa, director of sales for Caribbean NH Hotels.
The 265-room Casa de Campo in La Romana is fresh off a $30 million facelift with its renovated 78-room Elite room category, the new David Ledbetter Golf Academy and an array of packages, including a Travel Agent Escape plan valid through Dec. 20.
The 40-year-old resort took a hit last year in its group and FIT business, but "we're now recovering nicely in both market segments," said Jeanette Sanchez-Lopez, vice president of sales and marketing.
Luis Emilio Rodriguez, president of the La Romana Hotel Association, sounded a theme common to the message of the Ministry of Tourism.
"Tourism is not about rooms; it is about involving the community and the actions of all the players," Rodriguez said.
A recent development in the D.R. hotel product is a subtle shift upward to more luxury-based properties, villas, small hotels and residential resorts. Not all of them are all-inclusive.
The Punta Cana Resort & Club, which includes the 290-room Punta Cana Hotel and the 35-room Tortuga Bay Hotel, got out of the all-inclusive game 15 years ago.
"We wanted to target 'non-massified' clients and orient them toward better quality and service," said German Gomez Pellerano, communications coordinator.
Haydee Rainieri, president of Asonahores, the country's National Hotel & Restaurant Association, called for rate restructuring to put room rates on a par with other destinations offering similar properties.
"To continue offering quality accommodations and to fund needed renovations, prices must be set according to product," Rainieri said.
The Dominican Republic will open its tourism office in Washington later this month, headed by Lucien Echavarria. Offices in Atlanta and Boston will open later this year.