Wrapping up DATE

Travel Agent recently returned from the Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center where we covered the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE). The conference took place April 1-3 and we’ve brought back some notable news.

A marathon of press conferences for DATE kicked off on the morning of the event’s second day with possibly the biggest news to come out of the show. Barcelo Bavaro Beach Hotels & Resorts announced plans for complete refurbishments of all five of its properties in Punta Cana, beginning with the Bavaro Beach Resort, which will have all of its 600 rooms upgraded to junior suites. The five-hotel complex will then add a new golf course, casino, disco and theater within the next two to four years. Preliminary work on what has been described as “a project with no budget limit” began earlier this year as rooms were assessed. “Of course, we always have a budget, but this is something that will not have a limit,” says Juan Marques, director general of the Bavaro Beach Resort, which first opened in 1985. “But to say we would stop at $100 million or even $200 million would be wrong. Whatever it takes, we will do.”

felix jimenez and joe pike

Joe Pike and Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism Felix Jimenez

The always-personable Felix Jimenez, minister of tourism for the Dominican Republic, began his press conference at DATE by announcing an 8.6 percent increase in tourism to the Dominican Republic for the first half of March, compared to the first half of March 2007. (Numbers for the remainder of March haven’t been recorded yet.) For January and February combined, the country saw a 9.14 percent increase compared to last year. Jimenez says 3,027 hotels with a total of 63,000 rooms were added in 2007. He also notes that the government has spent $400 million to date in infrastructure improvements and plans to spend another $1 billion before the end of 2012. And the investment has been paying off as the country took in more than $4 billion in tourism alone in 2007, putting it ahead of oil as the country’s main resource.

The opening reception of DATE drew nearly 60 buyer companies and about 200 individual buyers. It took place on the same evening as the opening night of the all-inclusive Edenh Real Arena, which is where DATE’s reception was held. Travel Agent was impressed with this property after a site inspection of its more than 600 rooms. Particularly impressive was the Master Suite, which has two separate rooms, an open bar and—perhaps the room’s best feature—an outdoor bath. The room rate is $450 per person.

Perhaps the biggest news from the last day of DATE came from Sol Melia, which owns a chain of hotels in Mexico and the Caribbean. The company announced that its Paradisus Punta Cana property recently began work to add 200 rooms, which may be ready as early as December. (We think that time frame is a bit too optimistic for a project of this magnitude.) The smallest of the rooms will be 75 square feet and about 30 of these rooms will have swim-up access from the pool.

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