In this interview, David Collado, Minister of Tourism of the Dominican Republic, explains that tourism is his country’s present and future. He emphasises that FITUR 2022 is the country’s biggest opportunity to continue strengthening its relations with Europe, attracting investment, creating jobs and well-being, and shifting the trend towards more tourism, more investment, and more revenue for the Dominican Republic and Europe.
The Dominican Republic is linked to Spain through strong linguistic, cultural and historical ties. How do these links affect visitor and tourism flows between the two countries?
Spain has been a major influence on our country. And not just our culture, our gastronomy, ethnicity and architecture. Spain has been the second most important destination for the Dominican diaspora, which keeps the two countries linked. In fact, 15% of remittances come from this country, over US$600 million per year. And tourism investment is mainly from Spanish businesses, which account for more than 60% of this capital. Spanish business has invested more than US$500 million in new projects and renovations, a clear indicator of investor confidence.
Before the pandemic, some 180,000 Spaniards visited the Dominican Republic on vacation; that’s more than 180 million dollars for our economy every year. However, this flow is only 13% higher than twenty years ago, which means their market share has almost halved. There’s been a shift throughout the region towards nearby markets and traditional products. This has meant that growth in Spanish tourists looking for a differentiated offering has not been concentrated in this area. This is where our challenges lie, to shift to a model that’s more diversified, segment-oriented, inclusive, community-based, fun and closer to our roots.
What new tourism markets around the world will your expansion focus on in the short and medium term? What visitor targets do you foresee for your country?
We expect a good recovery in 2022, back to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, we got back to 77% of pre-pandemic tourism, in a context in which most countries performed even worse than in 2020. Canada and the United States will continue to lead growth, but Europe is a priority market for us, and Spain is fundamental.
Our decision to attend FITUR as the partner country is just one example of this. Last year we participated in both FITUR and TOP RESA. We’re going to strengthen our relationships with all this market’s major players and boost our offer as well.
What role do you see for tourism, hotel and communications infrastructure in the Dominican Republic’s tourism development in the coming years?
Infrastructure and new developments must be the basis for growth. We’re developing an aggressive plan to improve our destinations’ infrastructure in urban areas, beaches, and adventure destinations. Innovation is the cornerstone for developing new destinations and strengthening existing ones. The diversity of the country’s potential offer is incredible; it just needs investment and careful development.
In the north, we’re improving the Sosua beaches area and improving water distribution systems and treatment plants. One of our main water sports destinations is in that area, so we’re investing in developing it. There’s an initiative to develop Innovation Tourism in the area, to combine beaches with cinema and business development. That’s an entirely new development. In the northeast, around Samaná, we’re carrying out a plan to rescue the beach, seawalls, roads and encourage orderly development. That area is very attractive for Europeans because of its extensive ecotourism and adventure content, with beautiful beaches. During the pandemic, that destination became the primary recipient of film tourism, and we’re going to promote that segment.
In the eastern areas, we’re continuing to develop the Punta Cana area, but we’re focussing on a new destination: Miches, with its unspoilt beaches and sustainable, high-value offer. In the long term, development at Pedernales will be an important differentiator for us. It’s a high-value area with plenty of wellness tourism, protected areas and sustainable eco-systems, among other features. The capital is undergoing a revolution: developing the MICE, Gastronomic and Cultural Tourism circuit. The Colonial Zone urban renewal plan is in its second phase. Together with the Convention Center and the growing investment in gastronomy and accommodation, the plan will make the town of Santo Domingo the most diverse and entertaining urban destination in the entire area.
What tourist attractions and segments have you decided to promote?
As I said, we’re diversifying but sustainable tourism, focused on community involvement and at an innovative fair, that’s undoubtedly crucial. We’re continuing our focus on leisure tourism, but with an increasing concentration on value creation through diversification. This year we’ll have our most extensive entertainment program ever, with a year full of shows including Cirque du Soleil and performers from all around the world. Sustainability, Entertainment, Gastronomy, Congresses and High-end are the colours of our future. More and more brands like St Regis are becoming interested in our new destinations as a luxury offering.
The Dominican Republic has plenty to offer in beaches, leisure, gastronomy, culture, and nature, but there’s also a growing MICE offering, with meetings, congresses and incentives, and wellness tourism. How are you planning to strengthen these segments?
As I mentioned, together with IFEMA, we’re finalising the details of the new Santo Domingo Convention Center. IFEMA is a strategic partner for us, as it brings its understanding of the segment and its vision. This year we’ve led the region in MICE tourism recovery, as we already have capacity for more than 14,000 recurrent visitors in the eastern area. To promote this segment, we need to be able to offer something more, so we’re launching the Dominican Treasures project. It involves developing attractions with a strong native, community and natural component. The Dominican Republic has one of the world’s most extensive amber reserves, and we’re the largest producer of Blue Amber, the most precious of all. These treasures are important, and we’ll include them in our tourist experience.
How will you take advantage of the convergence between the old and the new to further increase Santo Domingo’s appeal?
It’s essential. Combining history in our colonial area and our history in general, with a modern city, with increasingly sophisticated and rich gastronomy, with MICE tourism and proximity to beach destinations, seems to be the right way to go.
What does it mean for Dominican Republic to participate in the next edition of the International Tourism Trade Fair, FITUR 2022, for the second consecutive year as the Fair’s partner country?
Further strengthening our leadership position is a priority for us. Tourism is the present and the future of our country; more than 700,000 workers depend on it and, so, too, do at least 1.5 million Dominicans. Tourism is our brand, and its growth potential makes it the most important sector in our country. This time we’re going to concentrate on clearly presenting our plan and our models, on strengthening alliances, and attracting investment. FITUR 2022 is our biggest opportunity to continue strengthening relations with this region, attracting investment, creating jobs and well-being, and shifting the trend toward more tourism, more investment and more revenue for the Dominican Republic and Europe.