Caribbean Gold

“One of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, up to now, the Dominican Republic has managed to escape the attention of most U.S. travelers and investors in the region. Now, with the billion-dollar development of Cap Cana, more Americans are starting to sit up and take note of this understated gem that, since the late 1990s, has been drawing European tourists to its beautiful beaches. (Beaches, by the way, that are every bit as white, as sandy, and as soft as those of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bahamas…but dramatically more affordable.)

“Furthermore, as residency is quickly and easily attainable, more visitors are choosing to stick around.

“Plus, low-cost U.S. airlines have begun offering service to the island, meaning that one of its historic disadvantages (inaccessibility) is being overcome.

“In 2004, for example, JetBlue Airways began flying from JFK, followed by Spirit Airlines in 2005. Both these airlines have announced plans to increase the number of flights they offer to the island. Delta Airlines currently flies from Atlanta into both Santa Domingo and Puerto Plata and is expected to begin flying into the Samana Peninsula in the near future.

“The government is welcoming of foreign investment and has responded to the increase in tourist numbers by developing the infrastructure around the main hot-spots. Projects are underway to refurbish the beaches around Puerto Plata, Cabarete, Boca Chica, and Juan Dolio. Meanwhile, the port at Santo Domingo is being re-modeled to include a new marina, residential apartments, and a number of hotels.

“Beyond tourism, other contributors to the nation’s economy include its free trade zone, which has ranked in the top five among the world’s free trade zones. Well-known names, such as, Abbott Laboratories, Timberland, Hanes, and Liz Claiborne have set up shop here to avail of low labor and production costs, as well as exemption from capital gains, corporate income, and value added taxes and export duties.

“Furthermore, earlier this year, Canadian mining company Barrick Gold Corp. announced it was reopening Pueblo Viejo, a formerly state-owned mine, in the mountains north of Santo Domingo. Expected to cost the company some $100 million over the 25 years of the project, this represents the largest private investment in Dominican history.

“From a real estate investment point of view, the biggest advantage is affordability. In the Dominican Republic, as I’ve explained, you have the same white-sand beaches as St. Lucia or St. Barts, at substantially cheaper prices…making the DR within the grasp of even the smallest investor. Plus, the government is keen to encourage foreign investment. Annual property taxes have recently been cut by 50%, while duties have been abolished on imported household goods and motor vehicles.

“Right now, all eyes are on the eastern shores, where Cap Cana, is preparing to take to the stage as a world-class luxury resort. Covering over 300,000 acres of prime Caribbean beachfront, it will include three signature Jack Nicklaus golf courses, spas, swimming pools, tennis courts, and a marina with capacity for 1,000 yachts. Donald Trump has already staked his claim here, with plans to develop ‘Trump at Cap Cana,’ to include a golf club and villas, a beach club, estate lots, and a condo-hotel. This large-scale development on the east coast is sending prices upward, meaning the days of early-in opportunity has long passed.

“I believe the best opportunity in the DR right now exists on the north and northeast shores…particularly around the Samana Peninsula. While the spotlight lingers on Cap Cana, this underdeveloped area (which attracts its fair share of tourist numbers), is undergoing significant development.

“This lush, green region boasts more than 20 miles of pristine, white-sand beaches…while, inland, stunning ocean views can be enjoyed from the hilly landscape. The international airport at El Catey, which opened in November 2006, has had a significant impact on tourism in the region, with direct flights coming from Europe and Canada. And, as mentioned above, flights from the U.S. are expected soon.”

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