Tour operators, travel agents, wholesalers, hoteliers, airline representatives and government officials gathered at the Paradisus Palma Real Convention Center in Punta Cana for the 15th annual DATE.
By Melanie Reffes
Organized by the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES) and co-sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism, DATE or the Dominican Annual Tourist Exchange is the most anticipated trade event in the country. The three-day show celebrated its 15th anniversary this year with tour operators, travel agents, wholesalers, hoteliers, airline representatives and government officials meeting and greeting at the Paradisus Palma Real Convention Center in Punta Cana. "Last year was an extraordinary year," said Radhames Martinez-Aponte, vice minister, tourism. "Our visitor arrivals grew by 3.6 per cent compared to the entire Caribbean which grew by only one per cent." Last year, the DR welcomed 4.7 million tourists with the US representing the largest source market or 1.6 million followed by Canada with nearly 700,000 visitors.
The 2014 marketing campaign called "Has it All" spotlights the roads-less-traveled in addition to the more crowded tourist Meccas on the east coast.
"We are a diverse destination that prides itself on offering unforgettable trips to travelers of varying interests," said Magaly Toribio, marketing advisor, ministry tourism. "The new campaign entices visits and encourages return visits to a new area of the country as each region provides an experience like no other."
Hosting the trade show, 554-room all-inclusive Paradisus Palma Real on Bavaro Beach offers three pools, casino, six bars, upscale 'Passion' restaurant, spa and plenty of options for the active traveler like beach volleyball, aqua aerobics and snorkeling. For those splurging on a higher-end stay, 214-room adults-only Royal Service includes unlimited green fees at the Cocotal Golf Club, cell phones for receiving international calls and butler service. A Melia property, the resort is now targeting the meeting market with its new on-site convention centre. "There is clearly great potential for us because this group travels year round and confirms rooms in bulk," said Rafael Torres, general manager.
Along a stretch of sand dotted with coconut palms, Club Med Punta Cana is the granddaddy of the all-inclusive vacation with a Mini Club Med for kids, three restaurants including the renovated beachfront Celeste and the only L'Occitane-branded Spa in the Caribbean. For those needing a bit more space, Tiara Luxury is a boutique hotel within the resort and tempts with multi-bedroom suites, concierge service, private pool and secluded Pearl Bar. Outdoorsy families won't be bored with windsurfing, sailing, flying trapeze, 14 tennis courts, Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole Corales course and 27-hole P.B. Dye-designed La Cana course with three nines and 14 oceanfront holes.
New to the all-inclusive package at the 816-room Sirenis Punta Cana, access to the Aquagames Waterpark includes playtime on the high-speed water slides, zero-entry shallow pool for kids and a four-lane aqua racer.
As Dominican as a lively game of baseball and a swig of Brugal rum, coffee drinking is also a national pastime sipped and savoured day and night. Family-owned for 75 years, Café Santo Domingo is the most popular brand and the beans of choice at the Coffee Rum & Cigar Lounge at Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe Resort where the bartender baristas get crafty with fan favourites like the 'Café Mamey' capped with black and white chocolate, cream and cinnamon.
Diamonds on the Beach
Twelve hotels received top honours by AAA including Tortuga Bay with a 5-Diamond rating and Casa de Campo, Casa Colonial Beach, Catalonia Royal Bávaro, Bannister Hotel, Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana, Dreams Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel, Paradisus Palma Real, Paradisus Punta Cana, Sivory Punta Cana and Zoëtry Agua awarded 4-Diamond distinctions.
Eden Roc at Cap Cana is now a member of Relais & Châteaux; one of seven in the Caribbean and the first in the DR to be named to the group. The premier property in the Solaya Resorts' portfolio is surrounded by a Jack Nicklaus golf course and caters to a swanky crowd who come for the gourmet menu at Mediterraneo, cocktails at the Italian-inspired Riva Bar and 'Moonlight Massages' at the adjacent Caleton Beach Club. Nightly rates start at USD $800.00 for a Junior Suite.
In the historic town of Sosua on the north coast, Casa Veintiuno made Trip Advisor's list of the top 25 boutique hotels in the Caribbean. Elegantly private with just three rooms, the petite hotel offers a gourmet restaurant with an impressive wine list.
Sassy Santo Domingo
The 255-room Sheraton Santo Domingo re-opened with a casino and outdoor pool on a terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Operated by the DR-based Hoteles Nacionales, the US branded hotel fronts George Washington Avenue, the scenic seaside boulevard known as the Malecón.
"By offering the Sheraton brand, we are expanding our reach to attract both the business and leisure traveler which will increase tourism to the historic city," said Paula Lama, vice president, Hoteles Nacionales.
New in the colonial quarter and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Casas del XVI offers history buffs a choice of 17 rooms in five restored 16th-century homes. Rates start at US $225 per room, per night and include breakfast prepared by the butler in each house's kitchen. Amenities include iPhones on loan for each guest during their stay.
Trade floor tidbits
"Marriott understands the guest experience which is why we are undergoing such a pricey renovation to the entire property." - Maria Checo, sales manager, Renaissance Santo Domingo referring to the USD 30 million upgrade which will close the hotel for one year beginning this spring.
"We have a long history with 80 branches in every city making us the largest international bank in the country." - Carolina Mencia, branch manager Scotia Bank Punta Cana.
"Carnival Cruise Lines will open a cruise ship terminal in Puerto Plata in November making this part of the country more appealing to tourists." - Radhomes Martinez-Aponte, vice minister, tourism, Dominican Republic.
"We are proud to be the #1 selling tour company to Canadian travellers who rave about our safari day trips to cigar factories, pineapple plantations and rum distilleries." - Nadira Garufi, (left) director, sales for Outback Adventures and former Montrealer who, seven years ago, traded the winter winds for year-round sunshine in the DR.
"We are included in packages sold by Air Canada Vacations and Transat and, as we're eager to attract more Canadian guests this year, we've started discussions with both airline groups in order to develop a marketing strategy aimed at the Canadian market." - Maxaida Marte, (left) general manager, Balcones Del Atlantico in Samaná.