Q What are your priorities in developing the tourism sector?
A We have developed areas on the north coast, the east coast and the south-east coast. What we need to develop are the north-east coast and south-west coast. The new destinations in the Dominican Republic, I am sure, will be Samaná and Pedernales.
A special mission from the UN Development Programme and officials from the World Tourism Organisation have come to the Dominican Republic to see what we need to do and help make a master-plan for development of the south-west.
This is the poorest area in the Dominican Republic but it is also the most beautiful and there is a national park in that area. We are putting together a programme for development by the private sector and we already have a lot of interest in the area from hotel developers.
We are developing a new city in Punta Cana/Bavaro, called Puerto Pabla. It is a completely new city. It is the first planned city in the whole Caribbean, and it is totally private; the state did not invest any money in it. We just provide the water supply, energy, etc.
Right now in Punta Cana/Bavaro there are approximately 20,000 hotel rooms but some 4000 new rooms are being developed. For the first time we have investment by North American chains – Westin, for example.
The first Mexican chain investor in the Dominican Republic, Palace Resorts, will open a hotel there in the summer of 2006. It is extraordinary because this hotel is going to have 180,000 rooms and a big convention centre that can accommodate more than 4000 people.
Q What about cruise ship business?
A We see a lot of cruise ships. They come for the day from Miami, the Bahamas, or sometimes Puerto Rico and St Thomas. But it is not just cruise ships we are talking about: every year more than 50,000 sailing boats dock on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
In the Dominican Republic, we are in the middle of the Caribbean; we are the union point for east and west. So a good way of developing tourism in the country is through marinas.
This year the private sector is developing a new project with a big marina – in fact, one of the most important marinas in the whole Caribbean – the Atlantica project. We didn’t have any marinas four or five years ago, but now, in addition to Atlantica, we have the Capcana marina plus the most important one at Casa de Campo in La Romana. And this year we have another marina opening, in Santo Domingo. We are working on a project to develop the port of Santo Domingo because we want to transform it into a tourist port.
We also have a port development project in the south-west. This is very important because it is a deep-water port, which is convenient for cruise ships. Once we have several hotels in that area it will be a good destination for cruise ships – they can go to Montego Bay and Kingston and then come back because we are very close to Jamaica, and lie and between that island and Puerto Rico, St Thomas and other places.
Q What kind of growth do you expect in the number of cruise ships coming to the Dominican Republic?
A At present there are probably one or two cruise ships passing through Samaná a year but beginning with the next cruise season, from October 2005 to April or May 2006, we expect five or six a week. They will be coming to a very small island with a beautiful beach close to Samaná City. It is excellent for tourists and for cruise ships.
Q What are the opportunities for investors?
A We are very attractive for tourism investment. You can find excellent opportunities in marinas, in infrastructure, in hotels, in development.
The World Bank did a study about 30 years ago and at that time they thought the Dominican Republic should develop approximately 120,000 hotel rooms. At the end of this year we will probably have 60,000.
So we need to develop a considerable amount more, which offers excellent opportunities for investment – and not just in the new areas like Pedernales and Samaná because after that we need to develop the beaches on the north-east coast and Monte Cristi on the north-west coast.
Q What can the Dominican Republic offer besides beautiful beaches?
A Most people know this is a beautiful island in excellent condition, but the most important advantage for the Dominican Republic is our people: they are very friendly and we have excellent customer service.
Also, though the territory of the Dominican Republic is only 48,500 square kilometres, we have seven international airports and we are finishing a new one in Samaná in 2006.
We have a big mountain system in the Dominican Republic. Did you know, for example, that we have the highest mountain in the Caribbean? It is on the east side near Constanza, Valle Nuevo. Sometimes on the highest peaks in December you will find temperatures of six degrees below zero. To think, having a mountain with this temperature in the middle of the Caribbean – it’s incredible.
And you can go rafting here because we have a lot of rivers with rapids. You cannot find that on any other island in the Caribbean.