Tourism in the Dominican Republic

My experience in the Dominican Republic has been largely based in Santo Domingo. I live and work in the zona colonial where the history and beauty play host to the many tourists who make it to this part of the island. The organisation I am completing my six month internship with is called ProActividad. They are an organisation that focuses on creating social enterprises in order to foster community based tourism in the Dominican Republic.

Why is community based tourism important?

Community based tourism is simple. It is tourism that allows tourists to interact with local people on all levels – communicating with them, learning from them, experiencing real Dominican life and also contributing to the local economy by staying in locally owned and managed hotels, purchasing products from local artisans and sampling authentic Dominican food. While this doesn’t seem like such a radical concept, in the Dominican Republic it vastly differs from the predominant form of tourism: vacations in all inclusive resort.

Many people who have been to or know the Dominican Republic have not experienced the old streets of Santo Domingo, the mountains of the inland or even the more remote beaches such as Bahia de las Aguilas. Most know about Punta Cana with its perfect beaches, clear blue water and palm trees that have been claimed by all inclusive resorts. Places to go spend a week basking in the sun, drinking copious numbers of mojitos and eating far too many very non-Dominican dishes. It is a place to relax with all the comforts of air conditioning, room service, high fence security and armed guards.

My first experience in an all inclusive resort was here in the Dominican Republic in the aforementioned popular destination of Punta Cana. After living in Santo Domingo for three months I boarded a bus and found my way to the gate of this other world. I am not going to pretend I did not enjoy my time in VIP sipping champagne and lounging with nothing but ocean views and blue skies to distract me from how full my stomach was with gourmet fish, but it also was not real life Dominican Republic. Aside from the painful reality that sees such a vast divide between the wealthy and poor in this country and how much food is consumed and wasted in these resorts while others struggle to live on the low wages that are so common, there is the undeniable truth that the hundreds of dollars tourists are so quick to depart with for the promise of all inclusive is not going directly back into the local economy as it should be. While there is no denying the benefits of resorts that grant much needed jobs to locals, the resorts in Punta Cana are by majority foreign owned with profits being sucked directly out of the country and feeding the pockets of those in distant lands.

The Dominican Republic has an economy heavily dependent on tourism. In 2015 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declared the DR to be one of the more vibrant economies in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a growth rate averaging 7% in 2014 and 2015 and a similar figure projected for 2016. The World Bank has classified the DR as an upper middle income country, yet there remains a huge level of inequality within the country. While there is a wealthy elite there are large numbers living below or near the national poverty line. Together the IMF and World Bank determined that structural reform was needed regardless of the evidence of overall economic growth in the country. Changes to implement real wages is necessary, along with reform and improvement to education, job training and less reliance on foreign supplies replaced with a focus on Dominican supplies in order to generate more jobs and income for Dominicans.

This is why organisations, such as ProActividad, are hoping to work towards changing this with projects such as their current “Tolerance Through Tourism” that hopes to take this concept of the all-inclusive package and improve the concept. The trips are organised, run by and led by local Dominicans (majority from the LGBT community) and provide a more adventurous and diversified Dominican experience. With trips that can be tailor made for the number or people or time period of your choosing. Including activities such as whale watching, white water rafting or boat trips. Exploring the perfect beaches that encircle the island, the mountains at the center of the island and the history and architecture found in cities, such as the capital of Santo Domingo. These trips ensure the money you spend goes directly back into the local community instead of foreign owned resorts that we foreigners have taken so much delight in visiting.

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