Is the Dominican Republic ready for incentives?

Whether a Caribbean conference can produce an engaged, focused audience that isn’t clock-watching until its pool time is up for debate, but if you’re looking for an incentive with sunshine and cocktails on tap, then the Dominican Republic’s appeal isn’t only limited to public school teenage runaways.

To escape their boarding school, the British teenagers could have booked flights to anywhere on the credit cards of mummy and daddy last month, so why the Dom Rep?

After visiting for the Site Executive Summit last weekend, it was obvious that what was once known as the ‘poor man’s Caribbean’, now has high-end all-inclusives that are a far cry from the sickness bug-inducing buffets of a decade ago. Since then, Punta Cana has been transformed by major investment and developments.

The Paradisus Palma Real, which hosted the Site conference, is a flagship Melia resort. Think tropical gardens, flamingos, and Balinese-style beds scattered across what is one of the best beaches I’ve seen in the Caribbean. The resort added 18,000 sqm of meetings space in December, too, and the transfer time from the airport is only a 15-minute drive. The month-old Breathless property feels a little like a W hotel-on-sea with rooms that have hot tubs on the balcony.

Not only does the country have the hotel side wrapped up, but it’s also serious about business. For Site, each delegate was personally greeted on the runway as they stepped off their flight. Instead of boarding a bus to the terminal with hundreds of other passengers, we each rode off in a cart buggy, bypassing lengthy immigration queues. Personal, memorable touches like this continued throughout the stay, signalling that the Dominican Republic is ready for business.

With CSR being one of the most important elements of incentives today, groups can tour Punta Cana’s countryside, visit a sugar plantation, learn the art of cigar-making and visit a traditional Dominican home.

Of course, the Dom Rep and its all-inclusive resorts are not going to suit all groups, but properties such as Casa de Campo and the new Westin Punta Cana offer an alternative to an all-inclusive package. The destination also has adventure and culture and history, but its real strength lies in providing an incentive with sun, sea and a little CSR.

For the Dominican Republic, now is the time to stand out from its competitors in the Caribbean and make its mark on the incentive map. We shall wait and see.