By Carlos Castillo
Consul General of the Dominican Republic in New York
Tourism and hospitality have become synonymous in the Dominican Republic. They are the mainstay of the economy, and a tremendous source of pride within our culture. New York City alone is home to over 422,000 Dominican immigrants, the largest number of foreign-born New Yorkers, and more than a million people who claim Dominican heritage. The frenzy of recent media attention and implications of an unsafe environment has challenged an otherwise untarnished reputation.
The Dominican Republic remains an economic anchor throughout the Caribbean and a force of stability. Relations with the U.S. remains strong as well. The Office of the United States Trade Representative reports that U.S. goods exports to the Dominican Republic increased by 9.4 percent to reach $8.6 billion in 2018, and U.S. goods imports from the Dominican Republic increased by 11.9 percent to $5.3 billion within the same year.
As a community, we embrace self-improvement and training, and we hold ourselves to the highest professional standards. We have pioneered and mandate adherence to quality controls that regularly redefine tourism industry benchmarks, and apply the same dedication to all sectors.
To fully understand the importance that we place on the enjoyment and well-being of our guests, it is necessary to highlight the significance of the sector’s past, present, and future.
A History of Progress
The Dominican Republic boasts a rich heritage and has experienced exponential growth in tourism over the past 50 years. In the 1970s and 1980s, the island’s beaches and hallmark hospitality caught the attention of world travelers with popularity growing year over year. By 1984, the tourism sector outpaced sugar as the country’s leading foreign-exchange earner, and in 1987, the number of visitors first exceeded one million capturing the rank of the Caribbean’s fifth largest earner of tourism dollars.
On July 19, 2019, the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic reported that more than 40 million tourists had visited the country over the last seven years. We welcomed 6.6 million guests in 2018 alone, a total more than any country in the Insular Caribbean, and a number only surpassed by Argentina and Brazil when including Central and South America. Today, the Dominican Republic has proudly claimed the leading position in the region with more than $45 billion in foreign currency income from tourism over the past seven years.
Tourism totals in 2018 represented a 6.2 percent increase over the previous year, and a rate of growth that exceeds the world average. Additionally, more than 41 percent of the travelers in 2018 were from the U.S., a total that has increased by approximately 10 percent over the last decade.
The Central Bank further noted, “As the tourism sector has shown, it is of singular importance for the Dominican economy and its strength has been evidenced in the continuous arrival of non-resident visitors, the entry of foreign exchange for this concept, the increase in the capture of Foreign Direct Investment and the generation of jobs.”
A Growing Infrastructure
The country’s stock of hotel rooms has grown in parallel to accommodate the ever-increasing number of travelers. In 1989, the Dominican Republic had 18,000 hotel rooms, more than any other country in the Caribbean region. Today, the Central Bank reports a stock of more than 80,000 rooms, a total that continues to lead the region. Supply is happily met with continued demand as evidenced by a maintained occupancy rate above 85 percent.
The Dominican Republic remains focused on growth and innovation within the tourism sector. The Tourism Development Council recently approved new hotel projects with a total investment of $467.5 million, primarily from foreign capital. These projects will not only increase capacity, but will also add to the more than 330,000 direct and indirect jobs that the sector is currently responsible for.
A Vibrant Future
The Dominican Republic’s crime rate is well below those of other countries in the region and continues to decline. In 2018, proactive measures like a country-wide 911 system resulted in a 27 percent decrease in the number of criminal acts reported against foreign tourists. We remain vigilant in the implementation of measures that will continue to convey confidence and emphasize our commitment to the traveler’s experience.
As previously announced by the Ministry of Tourism, hotel inspections are being doubled and food and beverage quality control and compliance standards are being increased, all guests will be made aware of the availability of 911 emergency services, and a multi-lingual emergency tourist center is being opened to serve as a liaison between visitors and the necessary government agency. A second phase of initiatives includes the commencement of ServSafe training and accreditation for the country’s inspectors in partnership Ecolab, among other meaningful security enhancements.
We have been touched by the spontaneous endorsements of citizens, celebrities, and friends who have shared personal stories and positive experiences. As the public continues to look to the facts, a downturn in the number of cancellations has been noted and bookings are trending up. We encourage travelers to visit our remarkable country and see that the Dominican Republic has it all.
Carlos Castillo is the Consul General of the Dominican Republic in New York.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.