Some had come for the beach, some had come for the sun, others had picked it because, at the time, the Covid numbers seemed reasonable. Many had chosen it over resort destinations because getting there seemed easy. Still others liked the idea of not having to take a test to enter the country.
Together, they made up around 25 of the mostly American, Canadian and British guests enjoying the “Preferred Club” adults-only pool at Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana on a recent weekend, even as the Omicron variant drove coronavirus cases to record highs in the Dominican Republic.
They, along with all the other visitors who filled the majority of Punta Cana’s roughly 42,000 hotel rooms that January weekend, were part of what many consider a rare pandemic tourism success story. In December the Dominican Republic drew 700,000 visitors from abroad, more than it had attracted not only before the pandemic, but in any single month ever, according to the Ministry of Tourism. That pushed 2021 totals to nearly five million visitors, more than any other country in the Caribbean. In December, some financial analysts calculated that the country was having its best year economically in 30 years.
And Punta Cana isn’t the only getaway that’s booming in the Dominican Republic. Las Terrenas, a small seaside town that tends to attract a crowd that despises all-inclusives, has exploded in popularity during the pandemic.
The Dominican Republic’s visitor figures have to do, in part, with its unconventional strategy for gaining a competitive advantage. Unlike most Caribbean beach destinations, the country doesn’t require proof of vaccination, a Covid test or quarantine for most incoming travelers. Instead, authorities have chosen to manage Covid by pushing vaccination and mask wearing among those who interact with tourists. Nearly 100 percent of the 174,000 people who work in the tourism sector are vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Tourism. And though all-inclusive resorts require only a reservation to enter, many banks, government institutions and some shopping malls require proof of vaccination or a recent P.C.R. test.
Hogla Enecia Pérez contributed research from Santo Domingo.