Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — Tourism representatives in Puerto Rico are working with their peers in this island nation to develop all-inclusive, multi-destination packages to attract more visitor traffic to both islands, who in turn would get the opportunity to visit both destinations in the same trip.
Mayagüez Mayor José Guillermo Rodríguez said Thursday conversations began several months ago and will continue in August when a delegation of tour operators and hotel representatives will meet in Santo Domingo to begin developing the tourism growth and exchange strategy.
“Caribbean nations have to set aside competition amongst themselves. We need to join efforts to be able to present attractive tourism offers to bring more visitors from the entire world,” said Rodríguez, during the inauguration ceremony of the recently relaunched ferry service between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The ferry, he said, is a cornerstone of the regional tourism plan, as it could serve as the vehicle to transport European tourists from the Dominican Republic and the mostly North American tourists that visit Puerto Rico. Another important player in that strategy is the weekly charter flight between Aguadilla and Spain, which is already drawing European passenger traffic to Puerto Rico’s Porta del Sol western region.
Although talks to strike up joint tourism efforts began in 2009, it wasn’t until a recent tourism summit held in Santo Domingo earlier this year that a commitment was made to come up with the multi-destination plan, Rodríguez said.
“We made a commitment to begin crafting the plan for the Caribbean, starting with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where hotels that are already offering all-inclusive plans to European travelers also offer them to those coming from Puerto Rico, using the ferry as the link,” the Mayagüez municipal official said.
During the first week of August, Puerto Rican tourism sector investors from both islands will convene in Santo Domingo to begin the dual-destination proyect, which Rodríguez said could begin producing results “soon,” without reveling a timeline.
Manuel Melecio, who heads Puerto Rico’s commercial office in the Dominican Republic, said both governments are throwing their support behind the tourism initiative.
“This is an initiative that is still at an early stage, but it has great potential and it is looking good,” said Melecio, who has been active in the talks since Dominican President Leonel Fernández met with Gov. Luis Fortuño in Puerto Rico in 2009.
Ferry, key component to tourism growth
The 650-foot Caribbean Fantasy ferry restarted operations in early June, after a near 15-month hiatus and several delays related to regulatory issues. However, since then, the vessel has made some 20 trips between the islands, said Néstor González, president of Marine Express, which operates the America Cruise Ferry service.
“Those delays affected us, because we were giving out dates that were not possible, so we lost a bit of momentum and lost out on the summer traveling season, because passengers make their summer plans in May,” said González, noting the larger ferry is capable of transporting 1,000 passengers and 150 cargo containers per trip.
To compensate for the lost passenger traffic, the ferry operator is now working on promotional plans to cater to different traveler segments, including those who are interested in shopping for goods; the Dominican Republic promotion is centered around Ikea, while the Puerto Rico leg focuses on big-box stores such as Sam’s and Costco.
González noted that between 70 percent and 80 percent of the merchandise and goods exchanged between the to islands travels on the ferry. The figure is significantly lower than that offered by other operation officials earlier in the day.