On Location: Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange 2013

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The Westin Puntacana Resort

The Westin Puntacana Resort

All roads lead to the Dominican Republic. That was the main message during the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE) this spring, hosted by Bávaro Beach Resort & Convention Center in Punta Cana.

The biggest buzz throughout DATE was the completion last year of the new Coral Highway. The 4-lane road connects the three most popular tourist regions in the country: Punta Cana on the east coast, La Romana/Bayahibe on the Caribbean coast, and the historic capital of Santo Domingo.

The drive from Santo Domingo’s majestic Colonial Zone to Punta Cana was cut in half to two hours. La Romana to Punta Cana is now 40 minutes, down from two hours.

For meeting planners this creates huge new opportunities for multi-destination travel, with convenient day trips departing Punta Cana to La Romana and the capital.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Santo Domingo’s colonial center includes the palace of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego, America’s first cathedral, as well as a buzzing hotel, restaurant and nightlife scene. The government is heavily investing in Santo Domingo to preserve this walkable city.

The big news this year, the Melia Santo Domingo will be reflagged in December as the Sheraton Santo Domingo following a $6 million renovation. The 245-room hotel facing the Caribbean Sea offers 9,700 sf of meeting space including 11 conference rooms.

“Today belongs to the future,” said an upbeat Radhames Martinez Aponte, technical vice minister at the Ministry of Tourism. He revealed that the ministry has allocated $13.3 million for 2013 this year with the goal of attracting 10 million visitors a year by 2023.

Luis Emilio Rodríguez Amiama, president of the Hotel & Tourism Association added, “Reaching out to planners and groups for meetings and conventions is also a very large part of the campaign, too.”

For pre/posts, we love Accor Hotels’ chic duo in the old city: Hotel Frances and Hotel Nicolas de Ovando.

PUNTA CANA & CAP CANA

Punta Cana’s newest development is the Punta Palmera Beach Resort in Cap Cana, which just opened 85 of a planned 192 luxury condos with sophisticated residential interiors. The 4-story buildings with Spanish tile roofs are tucked between the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada Golf Course and Cap Cana’s glorious white beach.

The condos range from studios to three bedrooms, with 2-bedroom units predominating, averaging 3,100 sf. Furnishings include lots of marble floors, cool white colors, artful wood trim and furniture, a whirlpool in the master bedroom, and the mother of all hot tubs on ground floor patios.
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One of the most sought after hotels for incentive groups, Eden Roc Cap Cana opened last March. The Corallina Conference Room and Caleton Beach Club represent the future of events in Punta Cana with high-concept design and international-standard service. Caleton Beach Club can host fabulous outdoor covered dinners for up to 100 attendees.

Opening in December, The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club opens with 200 rooms inside the area’s most luxurious large hotel, Puntacana Resort, located less than 10 minutes from the airport. Groups will have access to 3,150 sf of onsite meeting space, along with additional meeting, dining and recreational amenities at Puntacana Resort. Golf/spa options include 45 holes of championship golf and a Six Senses Spa. Last year, Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village opened in the same location with 1,614 sf of meeting facilities.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana proved its expertise as the go-to place to host large groups. Hundreds gathered for the DATE main event party here for a catered outdoor feast on the grounds alongside of The Hard Rock’s massive pool. Lit up at night, guests were greeted with champagne in flutes distributed by white-gloved servers lining a candlelit walkway as they arrived. Exquisite food, from sushi to a “chocolate painter” showed off The Hard Rock Punta Cana’s exceptional catering capabilities.

For those who would rather take the party indoors, the Fillmore Ballroom, which features 26-foot-high ceilings and two foyers, can host up to 3,960 guests. All in all, The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana has 65,000 sf of flexible meeting space. The 121-acre property was recently designated a 2013 AAA Four Diamond hotel; it’s also the first all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel in the world.

Blue Diamond Hotels & Resorts will open Royalton Punta Cana and Memories Resort & Spa in November. The adjacent, all-inclusive resorts will offer a total of 995 rooms and guests will have access to both properties, including 11 restaurants and bars. The development will also feature a water park, Memories Splash Punta Cana.

In September, Bavaro Adventure Park is scheduled to open, the first outdoor adventure theme park in the DR, is set to open in September. Visitors can soar over 39-foot trees on a zipline or fly like a bird on a 3-person flight simulator that hovers 65 feet above ground. Segways, hot-air balloons and a bungee trampoline are more adventurous possibilities.

DATE continues to grow since its first edition in 2000. This year, 120 buyers compared to last year’s 109. Suppliers numbered 130 with 362 delegates present, compared to last year’s 95 companies and 345 delegates.

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