Working towards a more diversified, inclusive and sustainable tourism offering
With different types of tourism, unexplored areas, and closer relationships with local communities,
Dominican tourism is opening up to fresh and exciting options.
Tourism has always been a staple of the Dominican Republic’s economy. Even in the post-COVID era,
tourism industry accounts for over 11% of the country’s GDP, is the main channel for attracting foreign investment and employs one out of five people in the country, bringing more than 4.5 million visitors last year alone. What is new, however, is the Ministry of Tourism’s new direction, which focuses on economic diversification, overlooked and/or unexplored areas and new potential markets.
In 2022, the Ministry aims to recover the record tourism levels of 2018, and set new ones for arrivals in 2023. Above all, the most important objective is to recover 100% of employment throughout the value chain, by increasing the average occupancy rate above 75% and attracting new investments. To achieve this, one of the Ministry’s long-term strategies is to develop the Middle Eastern tourism market. Major airlines like Turkish Airways will start flying regularly to the country, and others from Qatar and Israel will soon follow.
Given all the projects that are taken place, Minister Collado has many reasons to be optimistic. Like he says, “tourism awaits the best decade in history, and we are working tirelessly to be ready to lift more Dominicans out of poverty, create more and better jobs and strengthen our relationship with the rest of the world.”
One-of-a-kind luxury experience in Ciudad Colonial
A unique collection of carefully restored historic houses offers its visitors private, safe and personalized
accommodation in the heart of the city.
Being the only one of its kind in Santo Domingo, Casas del XVI has accomplished what few hotels around the world have: to offer its guests not just a luxurious environment but a truly singular experience.
“It is more than a boutique hotel of special status; it is a project in Ciudad Colonial that has set a precedent with the restoration of the Dominican architectural heritage”, says the hotel’s manager director, Ignacio Peñalver, explaining that the hotel consists of individual houses –some dating as far back as the 16th century- that have been meticulously restored and combined into one inviting hotel experience, where stays can be arranged in the exclusivity of a complete house or in a traditional manner of a single room within the house, as is best suited to solo travelers or couples.
Part of their success as a luxury boutique hotel has a lot to do with how they understand luxury. As Peñalver explains, “for us, luxury is an experience to be felt, not seen.” This singular approach is based on three main axes: privacy, uniqueness, and personalized service. Guests have full exclusivity of the historic houses, and therefore are free to use them as they will, while enjoying personalized services of
private butler, concierge, chef and housekeeping. Unlike big hotel properties, the houses are only accessible to registered guests, who can enjoy a sense of serenity and privacy in exquisitely decorated surroundings. Similarly, regarding their outreach strategy, they privilege a more direct and purposeful approach. As Peñalver explains, “even during the pandemic we continued to work with a low-key profile.” All these peculiarities allow guests to “fully enjoy personalized treatment and tailor-made experiences during their visit”, assures Peñalver.
In the future, Casas del XVI plans to integrate even more activities in Ciudad Colonial by offering guests the chance to take part in traditional cultural enterprises such as taking pottery lessons in Casa Alfarera, joining espadrille-making tours, or visiting the booming offer of museums and exhibitions. “We support these high-valued initiatives; I get goosebumps from the idea of offering those opportunities to our guests”, assures Peñalver. Such initiatives are certainly in line with current public and private efforts to strengthen and diversify the tourism sector in order to go beyond the image of a sun and beach allinclusive destination and attract a wider variety of visitors.
As Peñalverstates, investing in the development and promotion of different types of tourism like cultural, adventure and congress tourism, as well as ecotourism, has become a more active approach, as it certainly is the case for Casas del XVI and other projects being undertaken by the Terra República Dominicana Real Estate Investment Fund, that is co-managed by its parent company Terra RD Partners and INICIA.
“We have a long-term vision, we are cautious with every step we take. We make sure that every decision harmonizes with our purpose: to offer unique high-end accommodations while restoring the architectural heritage of this historical city”, assures Peñalver. By developing a unique business concept that profits from the country’s solid economic trajectory, this luxury boutique hotel has demonstrated that it is possible to stay true to your values and offer a one-of-a-kind luxurious experience to its well discerned guests.
Reinventing the hotel sector in the Dominican Republic
Focusing on experience-based tourism and combining real estate administration, boutique hotel operations, and rental programs, HMS and its brand Mint Hotels and Residences, have created a new niche in the market. It is not about staying in a hotel room with a pretty view and air conditioner. Any hotel can offer that. It is about diving into the culture, the taste, the community. You leave satisfied because you live an interesting experience, that is what Mint Hotels is about”, says Miguelina Butron, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Mint Hotels and Residences, when asked about the philosophy of their brand. They specialize in boutique hotels where high-quality services, exquisite cuisine and spectacular natural or cultural settings are a priority. As Mint Hotels and Residences’ CEO and founder, Abelardo Melgen Acra explains, “we realized that in the Dominican Republic the mainstream was the all-in- clusive, so independent hotels could not add themselves to the market on their own, nor had the capital to do so. As a company, we gave them the opportunity to make themselves known internationally and began to pave the way for independent and experience-hotels.”
Mint’s hotels are located all around the Dominican Republic, surrounded by virgin beaches, mountains, rivers or city life, and guests can choose two or more destinations within one visit to create a truly unique experience. Their country-circuits include “Mint Retreat”, where guests stay at the exclusive Bannister Yacht Club hotel in Samaná, a coastal city in the northeast of the island, and experience days of relaxation at Mee Spa, yacht trips through beautiful Samaná Bay, and hiking to Salto del Limón, one of the country’s most scenic waterfalls. Another circuit, “Three Destinations One Culture”, takes visitors to Regatta, an apartment condominium with hotel services in central Santo Domingo, to experience the cultural and gastronomic offer of the Capital and the “Ciudad Colonial”, the first city in the Americas, and then brings them north to Natura Cabana ecolodge, a nature lover’s paradise facing the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by mountains. There guests can relish in the exquisite and locally harvested organic cuisine, have a relaxing spa experience, practice surfing or kitesurfing, go hiking, or enjoy yoga classes in the extraordinary sea-facing, tree covered YayaGym. “We have been able to come up with four combinations under Mint’s philosophy, to give visitors some insight into what this country is, a country that surprises you”, assures Butron.
Their latest project, Homebelike, is another example of that pioneering mentality. Launched a year ago, it is an exclusive vacation home rental platform that offers additional services that are not available in common rentals, such as 24/7 customized concierge services provided by highly-qualified “experience specialists”. Homebelike counts with a unique collection of vetted and verified rental homes, apartments and townhouses in six destinations in the Dominican Republic and two more in Panama and Colombia. They also offer a wide selection of experiences guests can enjoy, from zip-line line adventures in Punta Cana to a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course in Punta Espada. Homelike is a vacation rental that provides you with a personalized service before, during, and after your stay”, explains Melgen.
In the next couple of years, HMS plans to continue expanding their brands regionally, adding new properties, and taking new trends such as vacation rentals and experience hotels to the spots they already manage. After all, as Helgen highlights, “HMS identifies as a group that is on the lookout for trends, that is not afraid of being the first in something and getting involved in that niche.”
Building a more inclusive, green and safe city where people take center stage
Her office aims to recover public spaces, promote alternative and collective mobility, improve accessibility and safety.
“We want to guarantee that once I finished my term, those who live here can say they have a better life standard”, says Mrs. Carolina Mejía, Mayor of Santo Domingo and General Secretary of the Modern Revolutionary Party. The first woman to run the city, for over a year she has been working on several programs oriented towards her vision to make Santo Domingo a healthier, safer and friendlier place for all.
Her first challenge came soon after she took office. Having to deal with the uncertainty the COVID pandemic, her first measures were aimed at cleaning the city and exhorting the population to follow social distancing measures. They also incorporated cultural initiatives developed with local and international organizations to stimulate creativity from home and help citizens cope with the situation.
Fifteen months later, when the city’s population is almost all vaccinated and life began to resemble normality, they have finally resumed the execution of pending works. One of Mayor Mejía’s main focus has been on recovering and redeveloping public spaces. As stated in their 2030 strategic plan, several efforts have been directed towards rebuilding parks and squares, improving green areas and children playgrounds, as well as installing new energy-saving street lighting, so people can access public spaces where they can recreate healthily and safely.
So far, more than forty parks have been rebuilt and are now enjoyed by citizens, and they have been working on “linear parks”, sidewalk’s extensions planted with trees to create shade so people can walk, bicycle and practice sports, promoting alternative forms of mobility. They have also encouraged collective transportation and re-routing cargo vehicles out of the city with “Ponte en Ruta DN”, a joint public-private pilot program aimed at reducing urban traffic congestion, air and noise pollution. In addition, they started recovering public areas that were being used inadequately for economic activities by relocating street vendors, renovating spaces to be better adapted to new uses, and educating citizens on cleaner and healthier ways to use and maintain public spaces.
Several efforts have been placed into inclusion practices. They are adapting parks, squares and other public spaces with special features like access ramps for people with disabilities. They have also trained governmental employees on sensitization programs, and promoted a historic agreement between the Dominican Telecommunication Institute and telecom companies, to support access to their services for these groups. One the other hand, Mayor Mejía and her team have fully backed up the creation of the first Support and Protection Unit for Women, Minors, the Elderly and the Disabled of the Municipal Police, particularly addressing street harassment.
Given the special attention Mayor Mejía has placed on promoting social inclusion, last December her office received the gold seal at the RD Incluye 2021 Award Ceremony, an event organized by the National Council on Disability and the UNDP. The prize also highlights Mayor Mejía’s initiative of creating the first Department of Inclusion in the country, as well as being a pioneer in employing an official municipal sign language interpreter.
Throughout her time in office, Mayor Mejía has demonstrated that with the right investments and common efforts, it is possible to have a cleaner, greener, more human and inclusive city. After all, like Mayor Mejía says, “I have embraced public service from the heart, without particular interests, and with the sole objective of improving the life quality of my people.”