Looking ahead in the Dominican Republic

Gay Nagle Myers

Since Covid-19’s arrival in the Dominican Republic, a snapshot of the country shows it plowing through the maze of entry protocols, health regulations and reopening jitters like most of its Caribbean neighbors.

But there’s one distinct difference. In September, it scrapped the entry requirement for proof of a negative Covid test and replaced it with a rapid test administered randomly to between 3% and 10% of arriving passengers, with results received in five minutes.

The initiative, part of the DR’s Plan for the Responsible Recovery of Tourism, also includes free health and travel insurance through Dec. 31.

Those two moves make it distinctly easier for Americans to access the D.R. than many other islands, which require extensive testing, quarantine requirements, additional fees and even tracking apps.

So now, what’s the vision for tourism in the D.R., and what’s the travel outlook for fall and winter? Seeking the answers, I talked with two experts, one in the hospitality sector and the one on the government side.

Gonzalo del Peon, president of AMResorts, an eight-brand collection of 68 all-inclusive luxury resort properties scattered throughout the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Jamaica, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Spain, made it very clear that his company plans for a strong recovery of tourism in the DR with its 11 resorts reopened by the end of the year (eight have already reopened) and more options for travelers.

“We work closely with the destination and local partners and look forward to doing so in this new climate,” del Peon said, adding that “the way people will travel has changed since the pandemic, but AMResorts’ commitment to our guests has not. Our primary goal is to provide peace of mind for guests knowing they can expect a safe experience in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.”

According to the country’s National Association of Hotels and Restaurants, 92 hotels are open, all having complied with the association’s reopening regulations regarding temperature checks, masks and gels, social distancing in common areas, baggage disinfection and elimination of buffet services.

Taking a look at bookings for fall and winter, del Peon reported that “our resorts are welcoming back guests just in time for the peak winter travel season. Travelers are eager to get out and take advantage of great deals, but they’re also cautious.” He pointed to AMResorts’ CleanComplete Verification program, which he said “ensures guest safety throughout their stay from check-in to checkout.”

He said that travelers want to visit destinations that are easy and convenient to get to.

“Much of our focus is on those established destinations where we can offer shorter travel times from key feeder markets in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll continue to expand as we navigate the pandemic and the evolving travel data.”

AMResorts has maintained close communication with its travel partners throughout the pandemic, an effort that del Peon feels “has made our connections with them even stronger.” Initiatives such as the Back to the Beach webinar series held for the travel agent community during the summer were extended into the fall to highlight reopened resorts and refurbishments. Over a 10-week period, agents virtually visited the resorts on Zoom and many now have visited on fam trips to experience the enhanced protocols so they can report to their clients on what to expect when staying at one of the AMResorts’ properties.

“We’ve received positive feedback from our partners, and they’re confident in sharing the practices we’ve implemented with their clients,” del Peon said. “We are committed to supporting them.”

The ministry view

Speaking for the Ministry of Tourism, Magaly Toribio, U.S. marketing advisor, said that the ministry remains focused on a tourism recovery approach where health and safety are the top priority for international tourists.

“Our Plan for the Responsible Recovery of Tourism offers policy and support to help ensure the safety and comfort of travelers, most notably through the Travel Assistance free health insurance plan that covers emergencies in the event of an infection or exposure to Covid-19 while in-country,” Toribio said.

Both plans have been well received by travelers, according to Toribio.

As Dec. 31 approaches, both the current state of the pandemic and traveler sentiment  regarding the insurance will be assessed “so we can curate thoughtful next steps and adjust as necessary,” she said.

Toribio said that the meetings and conventions industry has been hard at work putting protocols in place “so that those ready to meet can do so safely, even now.”

The D.R. successfully hosted the third edition of the Los Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship PGA Tour in September for more than 144 players, volunteers and staff.

“We hope this experience will encourage others to consider the Dominican Republic as the destination for their next event,” Toribio said.

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