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by Deanna Ting | March 27, 2014
The Dominican Republic is making MICE a major focus in its future tourism strategy. At the annual Dominican Annual Tourist Exchange (DATE) in Punta Cana held from March 26-28 at the Paradisus Palma Real Resort, the Ministry of Tourism and other hotel partners have announced major commitments to further developing the country’s MICE infrastructure, including the development of a new convention center in the capital of Santo Domingo.

“The Dominican Republic has been working on the MICE segment for many years but now, as a country, we’re really working together — with the private and public sectors — to develop a more formal strategy for attracting MICE,” said Thelma Martinez, the director of marketing for the Dominican Republic Hotel and Tourism Association (Asonahores). 

This year’s DATE marked the first time that the show has had a hosted MICE buyer program, inviting 47 qualified meeting and incentive planners from countries that include the U.S., France, Mexico, Brazil, China, Poland, and Austria. Martinez, who worked on qualifying the buyers who participated in the inaugural program, said that this was a prime opportunity for her association to bring “a different type of client to this event” and to “start developing a more comprehensive MICE strategy for the country that will draw from both the public and private sector.”

One of the hosted buyers this year was Anna Cellarova, a global accounts manager for HelmsBriscoe, based out of Palm Beach, FL. Cellarova noted that the opportunity to be a part of the inaugual program was very valuable. "This has been a great opportunity for me to discover the location more, and we also had an opportunity to see Santo Domingo and to visit Cap Cana," she said. "I'm very impressed with the trade show setup here and the amount of suppliers here." 
 
She added HelmsBriscoe brings MICE groups that range in size from 10 to thousands to the Dominican Republic and that the Caribbean destination stands out for its "all-inclsuive value" and "impeccable service." "The Domincan Republic is a great value," she added. Cellarova said that, for the Caribbean region, she brings a lot of groups to all-inclusive properties.  

Earlier this year, the Dominican Republic hosted the 2014 SITE Executive Summit in Punta Cana, and in June, Martinez said the country will be conducting a CMP program. “I think the future [of MICE] is very promising. We have what groups are looking for — safety, location, and facilities — and these are our first initiatives into promoting that more.” She added that U.S.-based meeting and incentive planners benefit greatly from tax exemptions here in the Dominican Republic as well. 

The country has seen tremendous growth in the tourism sector. Last year, nearly 2.3 million visitors from North America — approximately 1.59 million from the U.S. — arrived in the Dominican Republic via air. In January, a total of 116,738 tourists from the U.S. arrived in the Dominican Republic by air.

Bringing MICE to Santo Domingo
During a press conference on March 26, Radhames Martinez Aponte, vice minister of tourism, said that the government is in the early stages of research and analysis to build a brand-new convention center facility in Santo Domingo. “During this year, the studies are going to be finished, and the government is going to make a decision,” he said. Aponte added that the current Dominican president is also committed to developing a convention center, and that feasibility conditions, as well as location and accompanying hotel products are major considerations in the process.

“Before, we as a country had this misconception that you could only really have MICE if you had a big convention center,” noted Martinez. “But we’ve really had it all along. We’re only missing the big convention center in Santo Domingo but that should be here soon.”

Santo Domingo, Aponte noted, is also undergoing a major renaissance of its own, with major revitalization projects set to take place in the colonial part of the city, as well as the addition of four hotels in the heart of the city, which will add approximately 600 more hotel rooms to the capital.

Punta Cana Refreshes Itself
The country’s most popular tourist destination — Punta Cana — which was created in 1984, is also seeing many major renovations, said Aponte. “The majority of hotels are remodeling and modernizing … to maintain the competitiveness level of our sector.” 

Many of the existing properties in Punta Cana are also updating their convention center facilities. The host hotel for DATE 2014, the Paradisus Palma Real, recently debuted its new 18,000-square-foot Palma Real Convention Center on Dec. 1.  In total, the entire Paradisus Palma Real, together with its adjacent sister properties — Paradisus Punta Cana and Melia Caribe Tropical — offer approximately 63,000 square feet of space spread out over 31 different meeting room spaces, said Rafael Torres, managing director for Paradisus Resorts in the Dominican Republic. Paradisus, he noted, has also partnered with Earth Check to participate in its new Green Meeting Program, and has signed an agreement with American Audiovisual to provide state-of-the-art A/V services on site.

Martinez also noted that that the nearby Barcelo Hotels in Punta Cana, as well as the Hard Rock Punta Cana, both offer state-of-the-art meeting facilities for groups.

Puerto Plata to Receive New Cruise Terminal, Tourism Investments
One of the country’s oldest tourism destinations on its northern shores, Puerto Plata, is also seeing renewed investment interest, Aponte noted. He says to expect new hotel developments in the area, as well as the opening of a new Carnival cruise terminal at the end of this year.