Canada is the talk of the town at this year’s Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange, better known as “DATE,” currently taking place at Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort.
Yesterday (May 12), at a press conference attended by the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Tourism David Collado and the country’s President, Luis Abinader, officials outlined the important role Canada, as the DR’s second driver of tourism, will play in the nation’s pandemic recovery, expressing high hopes that Canadians, amid travel’s reopening, will return this summer and, in particular, during the peak winter season.
As a gesture of good faith, Dominican’s Ministry of Tourism and Asonahores (the Hotel and Tourism Association of the Dominican) signed an agreement with Canadian tour operators and airlines aimed at promoting new air routes for the purpose of increasing the number of Canadian visitors to the country.
On hand to ink the deal – a letter of intent – was Renée Boisvert, vice-president of products at Air Transat, Eric Rodriguez, executive vice-president of partner development at Sunwing Travel Group and Dina Bertolo, vice-president of product development at Air Canada Vacations, who each took the stage to express their commitment to promoting the Dominican Republic in Canada and growing tourism.
“We’ve never seen this kind of support"
While there has always been an element of collaboration between governments and travel companies, the DR’s support for Canada’s tour operators and travel advisors, in recent years, has been pretty incredible, as Boisvert, Rodriguez, and Bertolo, seated together at a table, told PAX, which is covering DATE 2022 on location.
“We’ve never seen this kind of support, so quick, from a destination,” ACV’s Bertolo said. “They clearly have a vision for improving the tourism infrastructure here and supporting the companies that are operating in these destinations.”
To be clear, the Dominican government has always been supportive of Canadian tour ops, the group said, but ever since President Luis Abinader assumed office in August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a noticeable shift in strategy.
For instance, Dominican’s Minister of Tourism, just two weeks ago, made a timely visit to Toronto and Montreal to meet with tour operators and travel advisors to present destination updates and make connections.
“They’re much more present,” Transat’s Boisvert said. “They’re working with tour operators but also speaking to the travel agent community. That’s what we need right now.”
There’s also something to be said about a government that treats Canada like Canada.
“Kudos to this government because we find that, in many cases, a lot of countries treat Canada as the same as the U.S.,” Bertolo said. “They’ll treat us like we’re a state north of New York, but we’re a completely different market, in a different country, with completely different travel patterns.”
For Sunwing, a vertically-integrated company of air, tour and hotel operations, the DR agreement is “a good sign that they’re investing in tourism,” Rodriguez said.
“In the past, a lot of this has been on the backs of tour operators to promote the destination and send clients there,” he said.
Sunwing, with its own hotel division, has an actual investment in the Dominican Republic in terms of bricks and mortars, so the government’s close collaboration with Canada, and other countries, “makes us feel a lot more comfortable and continue to invest in the destination and grow the overall operations at Sunwing Travel Group,” Rodriguez told PAX.
“The outlook is very positive"
Thursday's symbolic signing unfolded after the Dominican Republic, in April, welcomed more than 626,000 visitors, marking the first time the destination had received more than 600,000 travellers in a calendar month.
Most visitors to the DR last month arrived by airplane, but a noteworthy crowd of some 129,000 cruise passengers also sailed in as ships have returned to ports following months of uncertainty and shutdowns.
The Dominican Republic has removed all COVID-19 entry requirements and is preparing for a comeback with the renovation of Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), a USD$280 million project that began in February that will see the country’s busiest airport add a logistics centre and expand its terminals.
On Dominican Republic’s performance, in general, “The outlook is very positive,” Bertolo said, speaking for Air Canada and ACV.
“It’s becoming more and more popular,” Bertolo said. “Of course, Punta Cana is the main go-to destination. But there’s a lot of potential at other airports and resorts in Samana, Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo and huge potential in new developments like Miches and Pedernales.”
The agreement to optimize connectivity between Canada and the Dominican Republic, and work together, ultimately creates space for turning potential into reality.
“There hasn’t been a government that has been this collaborative and this communicative with us,” Rodriguez said. “As tour operators, we embrace it.”
DATE is the Dominican Republic’s primary platform for business meetings between international travel agents, tour operators and local suppliers.
Now in its 22nd edition, this year’s conference brings together some 160 suppliers and buyers from 20 countries. It runs until May 13.
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more on-location coverage from DATE 2022.