When it comes to Caribbean tourism, the Dominican Republic is most likely the least popular destination these days. That's particularly sad since the country's given the rest of the world a lot from cocoa and bananas to its best-known export—baseball players, which comprise about 40 percent of the average U.S. big-league team's roster.
There's a lot to appreciate about the country's place in the history books, as its capital, Santo Domingo, is the oldest known settlement in the Americas, having been established in 1496. It also has a cathedral built by the son of Christopher Columbus; 500 years later, it's still standing.
But while folks have nothing but good things to say about the Dominican Republic's culinary and sports culture as well as its place in history, those aren't what's keeping visitors away. The country has one of the highest crime rates of any nation in the Caribbean and as a result, merchants in the hospitality industry have marked down the prices of vacation packages so severely, they're almost giving those incentives away.
That sounds enticing to more experienced travelers who have enough savvy to know who and what to avoid in a foreign destination. As for the rest, the Dominican Republic's Tourism Ministry still has a tough time competing against the sobering news and hysteric feedback via social media on incidents affecting travelers in their country. Scuttlebutt of that sort is still likely to scare off a sizable percentage of otherwise interested vacationers.
Still more bang for your vacation buck
That said, those who aren't alarmed by the headlines can find a lot of vacation bargains, especially all-inclusive packages. Deals offered by Sunwing, for example, had resort packages in the Dominican Republic priced around $500 lower for similar offerings in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
One of the cheapest resort packages was for Bellevue Dominican Bay in Santo Domingo, overlooking Boca Chica Beach. A seven-night stay at this facility, which boasts two pools and tropical gardens, was as low as $650 US per person plus tax. On the other end of the budgetary spectrum, the Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach Resort on the southern tip of the island, which features all the diving you can take in as well as world-class cuisine, was available as a seven-day package for less than $1,000 US per person plus tax.
Getting around any of the cities, expenditures won't be much of a drain on your budget. The cost of living is so low that an American choosing to reside in the country could do so rather comfortably for less than $1,000 a month. The exchange rate also suits most foreign travelers nicely with the peso worth about two cents on the U.S. dollar.
The statistics don't jibe with news reports
More than six million tourists annually visit the Dominican Republic, nearly half of them Americans. Evidently, the rash of severe incidents affecting American visitors, in particular, hasn't prompted the U.S. government to issue a travel advisory regarding safety considerations in the nation.
Additionally, the Dominican Republic's federal government revealed that if anything, incidents affecting tourists have been dropping. While 2019 figures weren't readily available, figures from 2018 showed a decrease in incidents dropped to 1.4 per 100,000 visitors from 1.6 the previous year.
Hospitality polls released by the government also revealed that 99 percent of Americans and 94 percent of Canadians said they would visit the Dominican Republic again. In terms of service provided, 94 percent of Americans and 97 percent of Canadians rated hospitality as excellent.
A statement issued last June by the country's Tourism Ministry included a rather telling remark by Mark Murphy, CEO of travAlliancemedia. "This is a destination that has welcomed eight million Americans over the last four years," he said. "How many times have we heard about problems?”
It's safe if you're careful (just like everywhere else)
Putting things into perspective and more recent events notwithstanding, the government still declared that the country was safe for visitors. But the report advised that tourists still take the same precautions they would normally follow at any foreign destination.
It might be wise to ask the resort staff about the quality of security. And once at your destination, be wary of people walking suspiciously in the hallway near your suite. Ensure your valuables are in a safe place or better still if they're not essential for the trip, leave them at home.
Around town, find out about the seedier places in the area and avoid them, especially at night. More severe crimes are usually committed by gangs, most of them dealing in the drug trade. Others may approach resort guests as part of initiating a scam; should that happen, politely refuse and move on.
But the future could look a little brighter...
Those deals, indicative of how affordable the Dominican Republic has been of late, however, may have turned a corner. In February, tourism figures released by the federal government revealed that revenues between 2012 and 2019 registered at $50.6 billion.
The biggest revenue generation took place in 2019 at roughly 7.7 billion U.S., a 1.7 percent increase from the total reported the previous year. Putting a little government spin on the numbers, the feds also declared that the 2019 total reflected a 64.3 percent increase over the 2012 total revenue figure of $4.7 billion.
Still, the recovery is a slow year-by-year creep, but if the momentum continues and assuming people are convinced that the Dominican Republic is safe, the more cautious tourists might come back. However, those adventurous bargain hunters may start looking elsewhere for deals.