Until the afternoon of this Tuesday, the hoteliers did not know what the protocol of operations for the sector said.
This July 1, after a closure of more than 100 days of the borders, Dominican airports and hotels will reopen to a world now defined by a pandemic. Sightseeing will no longer be the same.
For the Dominican Republic, tourist activity represents 8% of GDP and last year it contributed 26% of the income in dollars that the country received, about 7,468 million dollars, according to official data. These are results that will take time to return.
The reopening will be timid. This is expected from airport terminals and hotels. Tomorrow, when the Las Americas José Francisco Peña Gómez International Airport in Santo Domingo begins to receive passengers, it will operate at just a third of its normality. Of the 45 to 50 daily flights that it regularly received before the COVID-19 pandemic, this July 1, 14 flights will pass through the terminal with origin or destination to New York, Boston, Miami, Orlando, San Juan and Madrid, according to the AILA programming. Meanwhile, at the Punta Cana airport, from which the country receives the most tourists, the outlook changed in recent days compared to what was expected a month ago. According to the itinerary published on its website, for the reopening day, three flights will be received from San Juan, New York and Fort Lauderdale. Progressively other routes will be incorporated, almost all from the United States, and at the end of the month, it is expected to receive about 20 flights from the United States, Canada, and Spain.
The Dominican Republic has kept its borders, its airports and ports closed since March 20, a measure ordered by the government to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Now the return of tourists will not only depend on the Dominican borders being reopened, but also on the situation in other countries.
The United States has not prevented the departure of citizens from that country, which has now become one of the epicenters of COVID-19 in the world, with 2.63 million confirmed cases and 129,545 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
More than 40% of tourists who regularly visit the Dominican Republic arrive from North America, and it is in this public that the tourism sector focuses its hopes.
From Russia, France and Argentina 11% of visitors arrive. Flights to these countries are not scheduled to Punta Cana, at least not for the first week of reopening. The Santo Domingo airport will receive flights from France, but they do not appear from Russia or Argentina.
Stepping on an airport
The airport experience will be less congested. At least that is the goal of the airport authorities that in recent days published the protocol for the country’s airports.
The document, authorized by the Civil Aviation Board, defines the rules that go far beyond the mandatory use of a mask. Passengers arriving in the country will have their temperature taken and, if it is above 38 degrees Celsius, they will undergo rapid tests to detect COVID-19. If positive, the special sanitary protocols will be activated and the passenger will be isolated in an area specially prepared for this at the airport.
To collect luggage, as in all areas of the terminal, the distances that passengers must maintain between them will be marked, but in addition, special staff will be in the area of the luggage dispatch strap so that each luggage is separated by a distance of one meter from another.
What will it be like for those traveling from the DR?
The first thing is that the processes are increased, so that travelers must arrive three hours earlier at the airport, and must do so already with their check carried out on the airline’s website or, in case that option is not available, they must print a copy of the ticket.
The protocol states that only passengers with tickets may enter the terminal. Companions will not be accepted, unless it is for people with disabilities or minors traveling alone.
Inside the airport, travelers will not be able to remove their masks. The only exception is when the airport security agent requests it prior to checking baggage or at the point of migration. These agents must clean their hands with alcohol or antibacterial gel before each passport they handle.
The JAC established that hand luggage packages should be reduced to a minimum and leave their handling and demands to the airlines. Airlines around the world are asking passengers to avoid carrying suitcases to the plane’s cabin to avoid physical crossings between travelers.
Before entering the plane, airlines will arrange for passengers to board in groups of ten, starting with those who will occupy the rear of the plane.
Hotels, like restaurants, will operate according to a protocol that was defined by the Ministry of Tourism. Until this Tuesday afternoon, less than 12 hours after the reopening, not even the hoteliers themselves knew for sure under what conditions they would operate. “They showed us drafts, but we do not have official documents,” indicated sources consulted in the sector. Without them, they add, it is not possible to know if they will be able to open this July 1.
Hence, several hotel chains have decided to stay closed for longer than they expected. For example, the Spanish Iberostar plans to return on July 31 at its Iberostar Selection Bávaro, Iberostar Dominicana and Iberostar Punta Cana hotels, while those in Dominicus, Costa Dorada and Grand Bávaro will open on September 1.
For their part, the Be Live hotels do not have dates available until July 20 at their Punta Cana headquarters, while those in Puerto Plata and La Romana show availability from August 1. The Santo Domingo facilities will open this July 1.
Room availability does not appear in the Meliá hotels in Punta Cana until October 1. Meanwhile, the Hard Rock Punta Cana will operate from this July 1 with a maximum occupancy of 30% and its facilities partially active during the first two weeks.
The hotels of the Punta Cana group, the Barceló and the Riu chain will open this July 1.
IT MAY INTEREST YOU
Riu reopens 54 hotels in 16 countries, including the Dominican Republic
There are no recent official estimates of how much the Dominican economy will lose due to the closure of tourism, but some economists project falls to historical levels. Henri Hebrard said the cessation of activity due to the pandemic will mean a collapse of more than 60% of dollar income. Thus, it calculates that of the 7,468 million dollars that entered the country last year through tourism, this year’s amount will be reduced to a level of 2,500 million dollars.
The opening of Dominican borders is only a small element in the world situation that COVID-19 has involved. This week the countries that make up the European Union negotiated an opening for only 15 countries outside the common space: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Serbia, Montenegro, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Georgia, Uruguay and Rwanda. The list has not yet been approved and is not binding on European states. It is a recommendation that will be reviewed every 15 days.
Spain, where 2% of the tourists who visited the Dominican Republic during the first five months of the year came from, will draw up a list of countries from which tourists can be received, but it does not clarify if they will strictly adhere to that of the European Union .
But in addition, airlines will not return all at once. The reactivation of air routes will also be a gradual process that will depend on the demand and financial possibilities of air transport companies, as explained by IATA.
All this makes the recovery of the tourism sector slow. The Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (Asonahores) estimated a week ago that in July 60,000 to 100,000 tourists would be received in the Dominican Republic. However, at this time the figure is unclear due to the delay of government authorities in making the hotels operating protocol known.
The expected recovery time for tourism activity would be between 13 and 18 months, and it will be in 2021 when 2018 levels are reached, the best recent year in the sector.
Companies that provide services to tourism are in a worse position. Tourists may not be able to leave the resorts to participate in outside activities or walks, so this restricts ground transportation businesses. Last week the president of the Dominican Association of Tourist Transport (Adotratur), Tusides Santana, acknowledged that the possible bankruptcy of companies in the sector, although it has not happened, is highly probable.
The same is the case with water excursion companies and tour operators, who are not sure of the scope of one of the deepest crises experienced by world tourism.
Casinos, which are integrated businesses with some hotels, are also on tenterhooks. The president of the Dominican Association of Gambling Casinos, Inc., David Moniz, said that the sector is suffering the consequences of the closure of non-essential activities that, if maintained, could force about 25,000 layoffs.