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How to Sell the Dominican Republic

November 6, 2015 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent

Street view of Santo Domingo’s Old Town with the landmark Consistorial Palace and museum (white building).
Street view of Santo Domingo’s Old Town with the landmark Consistorial Palace and museum (white building).

There are many reasons why the Dominican Republic consistently ranks among the top three most successful Caribbean destinations year after year. There are four key destinations within the country that we think will help it remain successful for years to come. Sure, Punta Cana remains the Dominican Republic’s most popular tourist spot, but we’ll also tell you about the other three that should entice clients who want more than just a beautiful beach.

Santo Domingo

Why it’s Hot: This quiet, magical town, the capital of the Dominican Republic, has long been a haven for Caribbean-bound travelers looking for that slice of history, art and culture not exactly found on the beach. But pitching Santo Domingo as a destination that could stand on its own has long been a challenge, since getting to it hasn’t always been easy and also because a day or two here is usually enough before clients crave a stretch of powdery, white-sand beach and turquoise water.

However, since the 2012 inauguration of the new four-lane Coral Highway, which connects the famous resorts of the La Romana region to the beaches and resorts in Punta Cana, clients can now break up their Dominican holiday with a few days in the capital before hitting up the country’s best beaches. The highway shortens the trip from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana from four hours to 90 minutes and cuts the drive from La Romana to Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) to only about 40 minutes.

Who to Pitch it to: Santo Domingo is a paradise for culture-craving clients who are looking for a little more experiential than staying at a beach resort. And the new road has made it possible to combine the two destinations. For first-timers to the country, we recommend two days in the capital and the remainder of the trip in Punta Cana. For the seasoned Caribbean traveler, suggest the opposite.

The glass floor of JW Marriott Santo Domingo’s Vertygo Bar affords views of the street directly below.
The glass floor of JW Marriott Santo Domingo’s Vertygo Bar affords views of the street directly below.

Hottest Hotel(s): It wasn’t until August of last year that Santo Domingo got the hotel it needed to stand on its own as a tourist spot, namely the JW Marriott Santo Domingo, the first by that luxury brand in the Caribbean. It is set in the upscale Piantini financial district and occupies a space inside the Blue Mall, which has several fine-dining restaurants and high-end shops, such as Cartier, Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton.

The hotel represents a $50 million investment. It has some really cool features, including TVs embedded into the mirrors of the bathrooms and key cards that are protected from magnetic strip damage.

Tip: We were told that JW Marriott is looking to start a program where guests of the hotel can charge restaurant bills from the mall to their hotel rooms.

Another excellent hotel feature is the Vertygo 101 Lounge & Bar, the Dominican Republic’s first “floating” restaurant and bar, which has a glass floor terrace rising 101 feet above the city. For those who fear heights, it can be a little scary to walk on, but it is definitely something worth experiencing at least once.

Other Tourism Developments: Following renovations, new additions to Los Tres Ojos natural monument in Santo Domingo’s Mirador del Este Park are now open. Los Tres Ojos is one of the most beloved tourist attractions in the area, boasting a series of natural lakes and caves fed by an underground river. Additions and changes include an area for local artisans to sell their wares; renovations to the garden and trails; and new signage throughout the park.

One of the Dominican Republic’s natural gems, the Cascada El Limon waterfall is about 12 miles from the town of Samaná.
One of the Dominican Republic’s natural gems, the Cascada El Limon waterfall is about 12 miles from the town of Samaná.


Why it’s Hot: A province in the northeast of the Dominican Republic, Samaná has a population of approximately 100,000. It is an area of immigrants from all over the Caribbean and who belong to various religious groups, including African Methodists, Wesleyans and Catholics. It is catching the attention of Americans for two main reasons: new, luxury hotels and new direct flights from New York via JetBlue Airways.

About five years ago, this untouched island started to pop up on agents’ radar screens when it became home to the luxurious, 87-unit Balcones del Atlántico at Las Terrenas Beach and the elegant El Portillo Beach Club & Spa. Then in 2012, Samaná finally nailed down its first direct flights from the U.S. in the form of nonstop JetBlue Airways flights from New York City. The twice-weekly flights are now among the carriers most popular routes to the Dominican Republic and leave from JFK at 8:25 a.m. on Wednesday and Saturday and arrive in Samaná at 1:05 p.m. Return flights leave at 2 p.m. and arrive in New York at 4:50 p.m. 

Who to Pitch it to: The destination has already drawn wealthy Dominicans, Europeans and Canadians, but it is now starting to look toward attracting Americans. We suggest pitching Samaná to couples, both young and old, who basically want to experience the beach life of Punta Cana without the people. The main draw here is fun in the sun and, of course, some incredible whale watching. Punta Cana may arguably have the better beaches by a photo finish, but again, this is a less-saturated Punta Cana.

Hottest Hotel(s): Although it’s not open yet, the most buzzed-about hotel in Samaná lately is V Samana. Viva Wyndham Resorts recently announced that its new V Samana, in Las Terrenas, which is within Samaná, will open in December. The hotel is expected to be the first in its category to combine hip elegance and a relaxed, yet active and modern vibrant ambiance in an all-inclusive setting.

The adults-only beachfront resort sounds like a perfect fit for girlfriend getaways and couples traveling with other couples. All 144 rooms at V Samana will feature ocean or garden views, and 48 will be “Vibe Rooms,” with ocean views and private plunge pools. Outstanding features will include a vertical garden in the reception area, fresh-to-table-and-spa onsite vegetable and herb gardens, and a market-style dining experience, offering various individual food specialty stations.

Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts, the largest resort operator in the Dominican Republic, was slated to open on November 1 with the new Victorian-style Luxury Bahia Principe Samana Don Pablo Collection. This 149-room Don Pablo Collection resort will be adults-only.

Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts is a premium resort division under one of the world’s leading travel companies Grupo Piñero based in Mallorca, Spain. Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts features 18 fun-filled resorts in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica.

Other Tourism Developments: Xeliter Serviced Residences is the new managing company for Balcones del Atlántico at Las Terrenas Beach. Maximo Bisono, president of Balcones del Atlántico, and Julio Llibre, president of Coral Hospitality Corp., made the announcement recently. Xeliter is responsible now for the administration of the condominium and its 160 apartments, as well as the rental program. Balcones del Atlántico is located at Las Terrenas Beach, just five minutes from Las Terrenas downtown, on the road bound to Portillo. It features one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, fully furbished and equipped.

Puerto Plata is the Dominican Republic’s best region for soft action-adventure as well as for water sports.
Puerto Plata is the Dominican Republic’s best region for soft action-adventure as well as for water sports.

Puerto Plata

Why it’s Hot: The new Amber Cove cruise port on the north coast of the Dominican Republic has welcomed its first ship, the Carnival Victory. This will open up all kinds of development opportunities in Puerto Plata as the port will serve as the gateway to the region, and will host calls by eight of Carnival Corp.’s 10 cruise brands.

From Carnival Cruise Line, the ships scheduled to call are Carnival Breeze, Carnival Glory, Carnival Splendor and Carnival Victory from Miami; Carnival Conquest from Fort Lauderdale; Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Valor from Port Canaveral, FL; and Carnival Fantasy from Charleston, SC.

With two berths, the port is able to accommodate up to two large cruise ships simultaneously, with an expected passenger count of roughly 8,000 travelers per day. In port, guests can sample various retail offerings, take a trip to nearby marine adventure park Ocean World, or take a speedboat ride to Paradise Island to enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving. Private beach bungalows with a personal chef, bartender and staff, as well as coffee plantation visits are also available.

The port’s cobblestone plazas are lined with a wide variety of retail offerings, including themed restaurants and bars and a marketplace with locally sourced crafts and souvenirs, recreational amenities and a transportation center for access to land and sea adventures. Travel Agent was told the total investment is around $90 million, $38 million of which was used for the pier and the other maritime portions of the project.

Amber Cove will offer a wide array of landside experiences, including beaches, water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Nearby Ocean World, which is one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, will offer guests many great ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

Dozens of shore excursions will be available, from cross-country adventures in 4x4 Terracross buggies that traverse the rugged countryside and horseback riding on the beach to snorkeling in crystal-clear waters and swimming in a pristine natural river pool.

Clients can also travel via speedboat to Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving, or visit rural coffee plantations and sample traditional Dominican cuisine, rum and seasonal fruit. Or for the ultimate luxury experience, guests can reserve their own private beachside bungalow with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff.

Who to Pitch it to: Puerto Plata is the Dominican Republic’s best region for soft action-adventure and all things water sports. This is for the adventurous clients who not only like to stay active but also like to explore, as many of Puerto Plata’s surrounding areas are simply stunning and charming.

Hottest Hotel(s): Casa Colonial Beach & Spa is an oldie but goody. This 50-suite property opened in Puerto Plata in 2007, but with constant upgrades and touch-ups still looked brand spanking new when Travel Agent toured the property in April.

The most requested rooms are the third-floor Junior Suite Superior Ocean Front rooms, #35, #36, #39, #40 and #41. The best room for families is the Master Suite Ocean Front, which comes with a private entrance connected to a Junior Suite and includes two-and-a-half bathrooms, two separate bedrooms with one king bed (Deluxe Suite) and two queen beds (Junior Suite), three TVs, a separate living room, a dining area and two private balconies.

The spa is 12,500 square feet with each of the 13 treatment rooms having about 175 square feet of space. The most popular treatment here is the Aromatic Journey, which involves deeper bodywork with targeted pressure and aims to relieve muscular aches and pain. We hear the best therapist for this treatment is Kay Sarita. Hint: During high season, treatments should be booked 48 hours in advance and 24 hours in advance for low season.

Casa Colonial is accessible by two local airports — Puerto Plata Airport is about 10 miles from the resort and the Santiago Airport is about 45 miles away. Note: The hotel offers airport transfers in an SUV Chevrolet (Suburban and Tahoe) with a fee.

We suggest taking the hotel’s Catamaran Romantic Sunset Tour; it’s a customized, two-hour experience with hors d’oeuvres and champagne followed by a three-course, private candle- and torches-lit dinner served on the beach à la carte from the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, Lucia, with a final special bath surprise.

Other Tourism Developments: Viva Wyndham Resorts recently renovated its Dominicus Palace resort in La Romana. The $2 million renovation includes updates in layout and decor to its main buffet restaurant, La Yuca, and the property lobby.

Family-friendly Ocean World in the Puerto Plata province has announced new developments to its offerings, including the opening of the Ocean World Bistro. The new dining option is intended for guests of Ocean World’s theatrical dining experience, Bravissimo, but is also open to the public during non-show hours. Following new ownership under the company Kviar, the onsite casino at Cofresi’s Ocean World is now open to the public from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.

Outstanding beaches and resorts have made Punta Cana one of the hottest getaways in the Caribbean.
Outstanding beaches and resorts have made Punta Cana one of the hottest getaways in the Caribbean.

Punta Cana

Why it’s Hot: Punta Cana has not just been one of the hottest destinations within the Dominican Republic for the last decade, but also one of the hottest getaways in the Caribbean as a whole. And the reasons are quite simple: there are scores of direct, nonstop flights from all major U.S. markets, cutting-edge all-inclusive resorts such as the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana and Paradisus Punta Cana Resort. And Punta Cana is home to some of the best beaches in Dominican Republic.

Who to Pitch it to: The word’s been out on Punta Cana for quite some time now. This is for beach lovers and fans of all-inclusive resorts. This is where you find the best of both in the Dominican Republic. Pitch this for clients who want fun in the sun more than anything else. This is for the client who wants a more Americanized, commercialized vacation.

Hottest Hotel(s): Although all-inclusives made Punta Cana the tourism giant it is today, the most buzzed-about property here is actually an EP hotel. Sanctuary Cap Cana by Alsol, arguably the most popular of Alsol’s Cap Cana hotels, will become an adults-only resort when it reopens on December 15 after a series of renovations.

The renovation will consist of new common areas, room upgrades, as well as updates to the interior decorations, furniture and more. Once Sanctuary Cap Cana by Alsol reopens, it will debut new room features, amenities and various gastronomic additions.

During this brief period of renovations, Alsol Luxury Village and Alsol del Mar will be available for bookings and will have undisturbed, luxury service located just a stone’s throw from Sanctuary Cap Cana by Alsol. As is the case with all Alsol properties, guests of Alsol Luxury Village and Alsol del Mar have access to the Punta Espada Golf Club and other exclusive Cap Cana’s amenities.

Also, for the more value-conscious client, the all-inclusive resort Barceló Bavaro Beach Resort, Punta Cana is always hot because it is always updating itself. The complex includes two resorts: the family-friendly Barceló Bavaro Palace Deluxe and the adults-only Barceló Bavaro Beach. The complex features miles of swimming pools; several restaurants and bars, including a cigar and rum lounge; PGA-rated, 18-hole golf course; nightclub; casino; and spa. The Presidential Suite at Barceló Bavaro Beach Resort offers the perfect retreat for intimate board meetings; the space can seat several dozen people comfortably and has the capacity to host an event of up to 250 attendees.

Other Tourism Developments: Travel Agent recently sat down with representatives of Alsol Hotels & Resorts and learned that the all-inclusive chain will open its fourth property in Cap Cana, the Dominican Republic’s multi-use luxury resort and real-estate community located adjacent in Punta Cana. The new resort, Tiara Cap Cana, will have 112 rooms and is slated to open on February 15, says Carlos A. Del Pino, managing director of Alsol Hotels & Resorts.

Richard Rodriguez, Alsol Hotels & Resorts’ vice president of sales and marketing for North America, tells Travel Agent the resort is already about 50 to 60 percent complete. The resort will complement Alsol’s existing properties in Cap Cana: Sanctuary Cap Cana by Alsol, Alsol Luxury Village and Alsol del Mar.

In June, President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and other government officials joined AMResorts and Apple Leisure Group executives for Now Onyx Punta Cana’s symbolic groundbreaking ceremony.

Upon the resort’s opening later next year, AMResorts will have nine properties in the Dominican Republic under five of its brands. This will become the fifth resort for the Now Resorts & Spas brand. The company currently has 37 resorts in its quickly expanding portfolio with 11 additional hotels set to debut by 2018.

Scheduled to open in November of 2016, the 500-room resort will be located in the Uvero Alto region of Punta Cana, a desirable destination in the Dominican Republic’s northeastern coast.

Catering to multigenerational families, especially those with children in the pre-teen and teenager age range, the Now brand is a collection of resorts designed for guests who are looking for an active vacation experience.

Also of interest to families, Club Med Punta Cana now offers CREACTIVE, where young and old alike can learn many of the exciting acrobatic disciplines showcased in famed Cirque du Soleil productions.

A ‘Portrait’ of the DR’s Appeal

When MMGY Global polled agents for its 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, “Interest in Visiting the Caribbean during the Next Two Years” was down overall, but the Dominican Republic appeared to be the most resilient. In this particular category it lost one percentage point — from 13 to 12 — while all the others in the top 12 (excluding Cuba) registered a four-, five- or even (in one case) six-point drop.

The Dominican Republic also appears to be more popular among Millennials and Xers (14 and 15 percent, respectively) than with Boomers and Matures (9 and 5 percent). In terms of future interest by affluent travelers, according to the Portrait, it is on a par with Barbados and Jamaica. In the category of “Destinations Visited in the Caribbean during the Past Two Years” it ranks with Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I. and it was exceeded only by Jamaica and the Bahamas.

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | November 6, 2015
Travel Agent offers a quick primer on sending clients to this Caribbean country’s four most popular destinations, from the beach haven of Punta Cana to the colonial zone of Santo Domingo.