The Dominican Republic Relaxes Travel Requirements With Economic Recovery at Hand
By: Gerelyn Terzo of Sharemoney
The Dominican Republic is looking to the battered travel industry to help revive its COVID-hit economy. The writing was on the wall, as the Dominican was already looked to as one of the more travel-friendly Caribbean nations over the winter months. Now it’s official, with the Ministry of Tourism announcing the lifting of travel restrictions as part of the Responsible Tourism Recovery Plan, which paves the way for tourists to enter the country at airports or other entry ports without having to produce a negative COVID test. Tourism is a major part of spending in the Caribbean nation, where the tourist-to-population ratio hovers at 0.70%.
The timing couldn’t come too soon, given that the Dominican Republic was hit with a one-two punch of mysterious American traveler deaths in recent years followed by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. With 6.5 million travelers entering the Dominican Republic in 2018, 4 million of whom came through the Punta Cana Airport, and a total of 8 million in 2019, the easing of the travel rules is expected to bolster hotel occupancy rates and revive a languishing restaurant industry.
Not all restrictions are being eased, however, as travelers will be expected to have their temperature checked upon arrival. In addition, a cohort of travelers, between 3-15%, will be selected at random in addition to those exhibiting COVID-related symptoms to undergo a fast aleatory breath test. And while travelers won’t be required to undergo COVID testing, antigen testing will be available at some hotels for international travelers within 72 hours, such as those from the United States, who must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel back home.
Travelers to the island nation must fill out electronic entry and exit forms, which combine the Ticket for the General Immigration Office, the General Customs Office, and the Ministry of Public Health requirements.
The United States still counts the Dominican Republic as a risky health destination and maintains its Level 4 Travel Advisory on the country, urging Americans to avoid travel to the Caribbean nation until it has better control over COVID-19.
What to Expect
Once arriving in the Dominican Republic, tourists must still adhere to the local restrictions that remain in play. For instance, the country continues to enforce social distancing and indoor mask requirements. When social distancing isn’t possible outside, masks must be worn. In addition, there are curfews in place that must be adhered to in the public, including 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Monday-Friday and 9 p.m.-5 a.m. on the weekends. Meanwhile, hotel guests must abide by the rules of the resort. The curfews will remain intact until May 16 at last check.
Despite the U.S. travel advisory for the Dominican, travelers appear ready to return. In fact, Minister of Tourism David Collado stated that the U.S. warning has had “no effect” whatsoever on the sector.
So far in 2021, trips from New York to the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago de los Caballeros are the busiest routes globally, as per data and analytics from aviation and travel firm Cirium. Prior to the pandemic, those routes did not even make an appearance in the top-10.
The Dominican Economy
More than 50,000 jobs have been recovered in the Dominican Republic’s travel sector since COVID coupled with the creation of 19,000 more jobs. The country’s tourism industry employs 70,000 locals in total. The recovery of the tourism sector is so important that the Dominican hosted the World Tourism Organization in Punta Cana in early May. During the event, President Luis Abinader was expected to hobnob with ministers of tourism from Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Colombia and other countries in the Americas with the goal of reviving the travel and tourism sector, including a redesign of the industry.
The Dominican Republic’s economy is on the road to recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). IMF Senior Economist in the Research Department Esteban Vesperoni recently touted the performance of the economy over the last decade, calling it “one of the most dynamic” in the region and pointing to “robust growth, macroeconomic stability…and financial stability.” The IMF would also like to see the Dominican implement reforms to ensure that the growth will be both sustained and inclusive.
The Travel and tourism industry is a major part of the Dominican Republic’s economy, having contributed more than 16% to GDP in 2019. That contribution was trending lower as of the first half of 2020 as a result of the COVID-related restrictions and subsequent economic slowdown. The World Bank is predicting GDP growth of 5.5% in 2021 for the Dominican Republic.
Victor Bisono, Minister of Industry, Commerce and SMEs attributed the IMF’s confidence to the country’s “vaccination plan” and “industrialization table,” adding that the economy is poised for take-off. Bisono pointed to more than USD 245 million in investment that the Dominican Republic received from nearly four dozen companies in eight months, coupled with steady growth in its “free trade zones,” not to mention a bustling manufacturing sector. In 2019, the Dominican Republic was the recipient of close to half of all foreign direct investments that were directed toward the Caribbean.
President Abinader has been making the rounds, looking to drum up foreign investment during the recent XXVII Ibero-American Summit in Andorra.
He touted public-private investments in the country, which he characterized as safe, and used the example of the Pedernales tourism project, which he is hoping to leave as part of his legacy, as an investment opportunity. The region holds the potential to be another key Caribbean travel destination. The project, which is targeting more than USD 1 billion in phase one, is expected to create more than 15,000 jobs.
As of May 7, the Dominican Republic had nearly 270,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 3,500 deaths. Approximately 2.3 million people have been vaccinated in the country out of a population of 10.9 million. The Health Cabinet revealed that they are ready to begin Phase 3 of vaccinating anyone over 18 years old.