NEW YORK -- The increase in hotel rooms, resort expansions, golf course development and air charter activity represents "purposeful investment" in and by the Dominican Republic, according to Felix Jimenez, secretary of tourism.

Jimenez visited New York recently when the tourist office moved to a new and larger location on Manhattan's east side. (There are also offices in Chicago and Miami.) The director of the New York office is Sarah Despradel.

Jimenez cited the importance that tourism plays in the overall economy of the Dominican Republic by ranking the industry "right up there with sugar, rum and merengue."

By the end of the year, the country will offer approximately 42,000 hotel rooms, the largest number of rooms in a Caribbean destination. A $12 million investment has been earmarked by government and the private sector "to increase worldwide awareness of the Dominican Republic, the second-largest country in the Caribbean," Jimenez said. Hand in hand with the investment and ongoing promotional campaign go special events, such as the 500th anniversary celebrations in Santo Domingo this summer.

"Tourism revenues rose from $17 million in 1970 to $2.2 billion last year," Jimenez said. "Tourism employs more than 200,000 people in the Dominican Republic."

Increased focus is being placed on the U.S. market, which tourism officials hope will become a key income producer for the destination. A $5 million promotional campaign in the U.S. includes television, trade and consumer advertising, increased visibility at trade shows and implementation of agent-oriented workshops and seminars, according to Jimenez.

Sales tools available to agents and operators include a new toll-free information number and the Dominican Republic's Vacation Planner comprehensive guide.

Dominican Republic Tourism Office, Location: 136 E. 57th St., Suite 803, New York 10022, Phone: (800) 723-6138 or (212) 588-1012, Fax: (212) 588-1015

E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.codetel.net.do

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