Booming Economy And An Agenda For Growth—The Dominican Republic Is So Much More Than A Pretty Beach
Dominicans went to the polls yesterday to elect themselves a new president.
In fact, it’s looking like they’ve decided to stick with the current guy. As of this writing, Reuters and Al Jazeera are reporting that incumbent Danilo Medina could have won enough of the vote yesterday to avoid run-off polls in June.
He needs at least 50% to win a second straight four-year term. If the final tally has him at less than that, the country will hold a follow-up election next month… that Danilo is all but guaranteed to win.
It’s not a surprise outcome. Everyone I’ve spoken with in Santo Domingo this past week has been sure their man Danilo will keep his post. By all accounts, he’s popular and well-liked. Plus, for the past two years he’s been at the helm of the fastest-growing economy in Latin America. Hard to argue with the guy’s track record.
The Dominican Republic enjoyed growth rates of 7% per year in 2014 and again in 2015 and is on track for that or better this year, thanks largely to millions of tourism dollars from North American and European travelers flocking to this island nation’s white-sand beaches and luxury resorts in growing numbers.
Alongside economic growth, Danilo (as his countrymen affectionately refer to him) has madeeducation a priority, sponsoring literacy and vocational training programs for adults and building 2,500 new schools during his four years in office.
“The current administration is working hard to get this country beyond developing-world status,” one local businessman I spent time with last week told me.
“We have a long way to go, but we’re making progress. Things are improving in real time.”
I could see some of the improvements myself, even since my last visit to Santo Domingo 15 months ago. Like all developing-world cities, the streets of Santo Domingo are overhung and crisscrossed by masses and knots of electrical cables. These are being put underground. It can seem a small thing, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a big difference in the overall impression of a place.
A new 911 service was instituted last year and is operating effectively, our contacts reported, and everyone I spoke with agreed that tourism to this country is officially “booming.” As testament to this anecdotal word on the street, major international hotel chains have targeted the DR, specifically Santo Domingo, for new properties.
“Santo Domingo is the epicenter for tourism investment,” one local friend told me.
Recently opened are a JW Marriott and an Embassy Suites by Hilton. Under way are an Intercontinental and a Hard Rock Hotel.
Meantime, Carnival is bringing a ship a day to its cruise dock.
The country is working to diversify its tourist trade.
“We don’t like being so reliant on North American tourists,” one in the industry explained.
“Don’t misunderstand,” my contact continued. “We love our North American visitors. But diversification is always smart.”
The DR sees about 6 million tourists per year; about 60% of these are from North America. Danilo’s administration is trying to attract more Chinese tourists and has also targeted Israel with success. Charters arrive regularly from that country.
Beyond tourism, the Dominican Republic’s economy relies on agriculture (bananas, coffee, and cocoa) and mining.
“Big outfits mine here for gold,” a friend told me, “but we Dominicans search for gold as well, panning in the rivers in the interior.
“I grew up in a small town in the hills,” my friend continued, “and we were always panning for gold in our rivers. We found some, too.”
I’ve much more to share with you about this country on track to take a position on the world stage.
Before I go further, though, I have a confession to make.
Until this visit, I didn’t get the Dominican Republic. It didn’t connect with me.
Caribbean beaches are great, but I’m a city girl. My time in the DR in the past has been focused on property scouting on this country’s coast.
No question, you can get one of the world’s best buys on a beachfront property here (prices are low, financing is available), and a rental property on one of the DR’s white-sand beaches can yield a solid return.
But there’s a lot more to the DR than beach escape… and this trip these other faces of this country have gotten my attention.
I like countries at turning points, and that’s the case here. While nobody’s been paying it any attention, the Dominican Republic has been pulling itself up by its bootstraps and getting its economic act together.
Now they’re targeting a new industry that I think could reinvent this country both short- and long-term.
More on this tomorrow.