SANTO DOMINGO – After a year in which pandemic-triggered border closures caused international tourist arrivals to plunge to their lowest level in more than 20 years, hotels in the Dominican Republic are now starting to see clear signs of recovery.
A total shutdown of incoming flights on March 19, 2020, provoked a severe crisis in the Caribbean nation’s tourism industry, with beaches left empty for three and a half months, hundreds of thousands of workers temporarily put out of work and the big hotel chains suffering millions of dollars in losses.
The Dominican Republic received just over 2.4 million tourists during all of 2020, the lowest total since 1998 (2.3 million) and a sharp drop from the 6.4 million who arrived in 2019.
Although the borders were reopened to international tourists in July, the impact of the pandemic continued to be felt throughout all of last year (the nation’s gross domestic product plunged 6.7 percent in 2020) and indeed the crisis has still not subsided.
The president of the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (Asonahores), Rafael Blanco, told EFE that the projected average hotel occupancy rate for March is 42 percent, which would be the highest monthly level of the past 12 months.
“Even though we suffered a drop of 62.5 percent in non-resident arrivals in 2020, in 2021 we’re seeing clear signs of recovery, mainly due to demand generated in the United States market, which is our main market,” Blanco said.
In the resort city of Punta Cana, the country’s main tourist destination, room reservations at hotels are already back “at pre-pandemic levels,” Tourism Minister David Collado said last week.
The recovery in reservations and hotel occupancy rates would be even more robust except for the fact that Canada – the second-biggest source of tourists to the Dominican Republic – has suspended all flights to the Caribbean until April.
Due to the travel restrictions, Dominican hotels are only slowly returning to full operations and thus far have reopened 44,000 guestrooms, according to Tourism Ministry figures.
That amounts to 53 percent of the 83,000 guestrooms that were available nationwide at the end of 2019, according to Central Bank figures.
In terms of employment, of the 350,000 jobs that existed in the tourism sector prior to the onset of the pandemic, nearly 100,000 have been recovered.
The tourism industry is projecting a “sharp increase” in tourist arrivals starting this summer, a process bolstered by “the successful vaccination process that is being carried out both in the United States and in the Dominican Republic,” the Asonahores chief said.
The sector also expects that successful vaccine rollouts in Canada and the main European markets will enable them to return in force to international tourism in the coming months.
That has led to optimistic GDP projections for 2021, with the Central Bank forecasting that the country will grow between 5.5 percent and 6 percent this year.
In their push to attract tourism, Dominican authorities have designed special public health protocols that now include no-cost PCR tests for visitors returning to their home countries.
In a recent visit to the Caribbean nation, the secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, commended the Dominican Republic for the travel and safety protocols it has implemented to ensure visitors’ safety during the pandemic.