Sunshine and all-inclusive: tourists are returning to the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is on track to receive close to 5 million visitors this year, cementing a recovery for the Caribbean’s top tourist destination despite the threat of the Omicron variant, Deputy Minister of Tourism Jacqueline Mora said.

In a telephone interview, Mora said tourism was rebounding sharply from the pandemic lows of last year, and that monthly arrivals from September through November were breaking records. 

Last month, the Caribbean nation received 519,349 visitors, a rise of 197% versus November 2020 and 12% versus 2019.

Even so, overall arrivals this year will be about 23% shy of the 6.4 million travelers seen in 2019.

Tourism represents 8.4% of the country’s economy, according to the central bank, although the Ministry of Tourism says the sector’s true impact is closer to 30%, once ancillary services are factored in.

In 2019, tourism represented $7.4 billion in revenue for the Dominican Republic—more than any other nation in Central America or the Caribbean.

After the 2020 pandemic induced a plunge in output, the central bank expects the economy to grow 11% in 2021, while the International Monetary Fund sees growth of 9.5% followed by expansions of 5.5% and 5% in 2022 and 2023.

The country’s bonds due in 2032, sold last September amid empty beaches, have recovered to trade at 101.54 cents on the dollar.

Open but vigilant

While much of the region barred international travelers during the pandemic, the Dominican Republic kept its borders open, instead focusing efforts on rolling out vaccines, particularly in tourism hot spots and among hospitality workers.

In addition, through April 2021, the country provided free health and travel insurance to tourists—shielding visitors from additional lodging bills if they got ill. 

“The combination of flexibility at the border but lots of controls at the hotels worked for us,” Mora said. “Tourists really liked that.”

In December, S&P Global cited the booming tourism industry for the country’s “impressive economic recovery.”

Even so, Mora said new COVID restrictions in places like Canada and Europe to fight the Omicron variant could damp travel in the first few months of the year, even as the ministry estimates to close 2022 with 6.6 million visitors.

“We still don’t know what this new wave of infections will look like,” she said, “but January could be challenging.”

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