Amidst the world economic crisis, the previously obscure term, competitiveness, has become a mainstream word. Which is not surprising, because in times like these, consumers naturally become more cost-conscious.Ask any tourist what makes a destination competitive and they will probably come up with something like “being a good value” – in other words, providing a satisfactory travel experience for a fair price.But for tourism industry professionals, it’s not quite so simple. For a tourist destination to be competitive, they maintain, it must first be sustainable. And sustainability goes far beyond satisfying the tourists to insure that they keep coming back. A sustainable destination must satisfy many other stakeholders, including the local community, the environment, the hoteliers, the service providers and the government.With 4 million air arrivals per year, half a million cruise ship visitors and over 60,000 hotel rooms – the Dominican Republic is the leading island destination in the Caribbean.As such, it might be assumed to have a competitive tourist industry. But the local leaders are not taking this for granted. In fact, they have created a wide network of regional tourism clusters whose job it is to identify the constraints that may compromise the long term development of the industry, and to work with the government and the local communities to implement possible solutions.
The nine existing tourism clusters – a few more are being formed — are grouped under the Dominican Federation for Tourism Competitiveness (whose Spanish acronym is CDCT), headed by hotelier, Mr. Rafael Collado.In his welcome speech at the recent Dominican Tourism Competitiveness Forum (FODATUR) held in the nation’s capital, Mr. Collado alluded to the challenges being faced by the country’s tourism industry, stressing that while some of them – like the state of the global economy and volatility in oil and commodity prices – are beyond its control, others are entirely manageable, and it was the event’s goal to put them on the agenda and map out a realistic action plan.The event, which lasted for two days, gathered over a dozen of the most brilliant minds in tourism from Latin America, Spain and the USA, in addition to the Dominican Republic. A sizable group of industry professionals, hoteliers, travel agents, lawyers, consultants and public officials attended.On the subject of competitiveness indicators, the delegate from the University of Monterrey, Mexico, explained his country’s highly sophisticated method of assessment. A territory’s tourism competitiveness – relative to other territories – is measured by giving numerical values to a wide number of variables.The methodology is so thorough that it covers 112 different variables grouped into 10 categories: cultural activities and resources, natural resources and protection of the environment, human resources and education, hotel industry infrastructure and professionalization, tourist flows and means of transportation, tourism support services, public safety and protection, profitability and economic aspects, tourism promotion, and governmental support and efficiency.The CDCT vowed to seek support for the development of a similar evaluation tool in the Dominican Republic.It was pointed out, furthermore, that one of the nation’s challenges is the lack of a modern tourism law. A new bill that would put the D.R. on par with other Latin American countries had recently been drafted and delivered to the Minister of Tourism by a committee headed by the tour operators association. In a joint declaration, the participants urged the Minister to give the bill his full support and submit it to Congress without delay.
Yet another highlight were the concurrent workshops, where the group was split into round tables to discuss the main issues on the tourism competitiveness agenda and to suggest solutions. Topics included: environment, hotels, airlines, ocean travel, health and safety, tour guides, education, marketing and tourism clusters, among others.Each table was headed by an authority on the subject matter. Many new ideas emerged, and the CDCT made a commitment to discuss the conclusions with the competent authorities, reach agreements, and monitor their implementation.The annual event was sponsored by various public and private sector organizations and businesses, primarily the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has been the main catalyst behind the creation and development of the cluster concept in the Dominican Republic.