Punta Cana hoteliers urge agents to fight disinformation

|
Addressing travel advisors at a Travel Weekly-sponsored fam trip in Punta Cana were (from left): John Long, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts; Kevin Froemming, Playa Hotels & Resorts; Lucien Echavarria, Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism; and Frank Maduro, AIC Hotel Group.
Addressing travel advisors at a Travel Weekly-sponsored fam trip in Punta Cana were (from left): John Long, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts; Kevin Froemming, Playa Hotels & Resorts; Lucien Echavarria, Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism; and Frank Maduro, AIC Hotel Group.

PUNTA CANA, D.R. -- Travel advisors are the first line of defense in combating negative perceptions of the Dominican Republic.

This was the message delivered to 35 U.S. agents on a recent fam trip to Punta Cana sponsored by Travel Weekly and hosted by the Ministry of Tourism.

"Tourism is the main income for our economy. You all know what has happened here. People have lost jobs as result of the loss of visitors and business. We need your support and help to bring your clients here for the first time or on return trips," said Lucien Echavarria, New York-based director of the Ministry of Tourism.

Earlier this year, media outlets reported on a cluster of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, saying that some tourists died after drinking alcohol from the in-room minibar, fueling speculation that tainted alcohol was the cause of death. 

Some publications described the deaths as "mysterious," drawing the ire of Dominican Republic tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia.

The resulting furor scared many Americans from traveling to the D.R., and visitor numbers plummeted

However, an FBI investigation uncovered no connection between the tourist deaths and no tainted alcohol, supporting the country's position that the deaths were natural. But the damage was done. 

Three hotel executives addressed not only the challenges facing the D.R. but also the initiatives taken by hotels as well as the government to ensure the safety and security of both new and returning visitors.

Frank Maduro, vice president of sales for AIC Hotel Group (the sales and marketing company for the Hard Rock Punta Cana) told agents, "We must become activists. We're all fighting the same uphill battle. Our repeat guests and first-time visitors fear the unknown. They're not doing their research and they believe all the news they see and hear. This is what we have to overcome."

John Long, vice president of sales and business development for Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, said, "The damage has been done. It's not that simple to fix, but we're moving on with great help and support from our travel advisors who are our brand ambassadors."  

The task facing both the private and public sectors is "to rethink how we position the market and to put a better product and message in front of the customer," Long said.

Kevin Froemming, Playa Hotels & Resorts' executive vice president and chief commercial officer, spoke candidly about the situation.

"Demand took a downturn following the negative headlines in the spring and summer. By the end of January we will have brought more than 3,000 travel agents down here to see the Playa product in the D.R. Consumers need educated agents, and there is no better way to sell the product than to have agents come down and see for themselves," Froemming said.

All three hotel executives said that current rates are exceptionally discounted. 

"We hope this doesn't last, but the pure value offers that are in play now are opportunities that benefit consumers more than ever before," Froemming said.

"Consumers are able to afford higher categories of accommodations with the deals now available, and agents are seizing upon these opportunities," Long said. "This is a huge opportunity to bring new customers into the marketplace."

All three hoteliers reported a gradual pickup in leisure travel for the winter season, and many properties have robust bookings during the upcoming holiday season.

"Our outlook for the winter is great at this point, especially with the family market, although the top-end luxury market is struggling," Long said. "The back end of 2020 will be much better, and we will see this destination come back." 

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI