Wall Street Journal on DR's North Coast

Apr 30, 2006
Trying to Be the New St. Barts
Celebrities overtake backpackers on the Dominican Republic's north coast
October 28, 2006; Page P7

SAMANA, Dominican Republic -- The Dominican Republic's Samana Peninsula is dominated by electric-blue waters and bleached white beaches. It's also showing signs of rapid development: Swathes of freshly dug earth mark new resort and marina sites.
[Gran Bahia Principe Samana]
Gran Bahia Principe Samana

For many travelers, a vacation in the Dominican Republic involves a stay at one of the sprawling resorts at Punta Cana, on the east coast. But as the country tries to expand its tourism economy, the focus is now on the north coast.

Just a few years ago, adventurous travelers returned with stories of windswept backpacker huts and beaches there too polluted for swimming. Now, celebrities such as Brad Pitt have been spotted looking at properties for sale. Designer villas with private beaches and putting greens are being rented out for $2,500 a night. Next month, a new airport will open for charter flights and private jets.

The speed of change in the north underscores how rapidly backpacker havens are now being discovered, and then transformed by developers into luxury resorts. It also highlights tourism's effect on the divide between rich and poor in the Caribbean. It's particularly stark here in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
[Sea Horse Ranch resort]
Sea Horse Ranch resort

But at a time when the region is undergoing a big expansion of luxury resorts, from Grand Cayman to Turks and Caicos, tourism experts are asking whether the pace of new building is ultimately sustainable.

More than 3.69 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic last year, with four million visitors estimated this year. Along the north coast, developments are springing up to capture some of the influx. In the town of Puerto Plata, $30 million was spent cleaning beaches polluted by sewage and dredging up fresh white sand. Down the coast in Cabarete -- an area that's long attracted laid-back kite-surfers, due to the high-speed winds off the ocean -- hip restaurants line the main strip near new luxury condominiums. Further down on the Samana Peninsula, the first of four five-star resorts operated by Spanish hotel company Bahia Principe open next month, complete with heliports and beachside villas.

President Leonel Fernandez has been courting Hollywood, even having stars like Robert De Niro over to the presidential palace for lunch. Ten feature films have been shot in the country in the last few years, says Eddie Martinez, Minister for Economic Trade and Development for the Dominican Republic, including "The Good Shepherd" (starring Mr. De Niro, Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon) and "The Lost City" (featuring Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray). Next month, Puerto Plata will host its second annual Dominican International Film Festival, which will draw actors like Vin Diesel.
[Dominican Republic]

One of the best examples of the changing face of the north coast is Casa Colonial, a five-star boutique hotel near Puerto Plata. Attendants in safari hats welcome guests, who pay anywhere from $260 to $1,000 a night for the penthouse where Donatella Versace stayed soon after it opened in 2004. A floor-to-ceiling mirror, moved in for her visit, still stands in the room.

It was a challenge convincing travelers that there was a quality boutique hotel in the Dominican Republic, says Roberto Cavoli, who has worked in the local hotel business for more than 15 years and operates Casa Colonial with his wife, Sarah Garcia, an architect who also designed the hotel. To help establish a market, the property got five-star certification from the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand. Now, the area is going the right way, Ms. Garcia says: "High-end bohemian."

Around six years ago, developers started buying cheap land in the north and building villas. "In the last three years, there must be close to two dozen scattered between Puerto Plata and Cabrera," says Jason Matthews, who manages 10 properties through North Coast Management, a villa rental company with offices in the Dominican Republic and the U.S. For $20,000 a week Mr. Matthews rents out his own property, Castellamonte, a 15,000-square-foot Spanish-style villa with eight bedrooms, hand-painted murals on the ceilings and a putting green.
[Villa Castellamonte]
Villa Castellamonte

Soon, villas in the area will be joined by the Bahia Principe all-inclusive five-star resorts. The north coast tried this approach once before, building all-inclusive resorts with loans from the Dominican Central Bank in the 1970s. But many were cheaply made, say locals. The new ones will include plenty of luxury perks. The Bahia Principe resort at Cayo Levantado, a tiny, picturesque island where Bacardi filmed its commercials, will have a heliport and beach villas with private, open-air Jacuzzis looking out to the sea.

More change is expected around Samana when 75 cruise ships, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, are expected to dock this season, up from 45 last season.
[Occidental Gran Bahia]
Occidental Gran Bahia

This is putting pressure on some locals to keep pace with the market or sell out to someone who will. When Windsurf Resort owner Gordon Gannon bought the hotel in Cabarete in 1992, its 36 rooms had no telephones, air conditioning, or television. Since then, he's spent more than $1 million on upgrades. There are now 60 rooms, with 120 more in the works, crammed with modern amenities. "What used to be luxury items are now standard," he says.

There are risks to targeting such an upscale market. Affluent travelers "think that they have all the answers themselves, so trying to convince them on new product, a new destination, is a challenge," says Gary Sain, Chief Marketing Officer and Partner of YPB&R, a travel marketing firm that recently published a study of travelers with household incomes above $200,000.

The north coast is still far from reaching critical mass with travelers. When Bill Supan, a building contractor from Longview, Texas, told friends he was planning a trip to the Dominican Republic, they were wary. "Our friends asked 'where is that? Are they fighting there?' " says Mr. Supan.

On a recent eight-day trip with his wife, Mr. Supan mingled with the locals, driving to little coastal towns and shopping. "It is not a destination that is on the tip of everybody's tongue like a St. Thomas might be," he says. "I can't wait to get back home and start showing pictures."


Mar 19, 2005
I hope you have permission!

President Leonel Fernandez has been courting Hollywood, even having stars like Robert De Niro over to the presidential palace for lunch. Ten feature films have been shot in the country in the last few years, says Eddie Martinez, Minister for Economic Trade and Development for the Dominican Republic, including "The Good Shepherd" (starring Mr. De Niro, Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon) and "The Lost City" (featuring Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray). Next month, Puerto Plata will host its second annual Dominican International Film Festival, which will draw actors like Vin Diesel.
[Dominican Republic]

here's more on this:



Mar 19, 2005
A Golden Age in the Horizon?

The Miami Herald(1) october 29 (Sunday) edition:

Many new resorts are opening this fall in the Caribbean, and a number of others have spent millions spiffing up their properties.

Most dramatic is the furious construction at La Samana in the Dominican Republic. Four major resorts and a new international airport are opening there in November.

El Catey International Airport, 20 minutes from the town of Samana, will be able to handle international flights. Currently, Samana-bound American passengers must drive three hours from the Punta Cana airport.

With the $70-million new airport coming on line, the Gran Bahia Principe group is opening four five-star all-inclusive hotels in Samana in November and December. The 295-room Gran Bahia Principe Cayacoa and the 396-room Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo are to open this week. The Gran Bahia Principe Samana, with 110 rooms, opens Nov. 15 and the 195-room Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Dec. 15.

Punta Cana also is blossoming with new facilities opening this fall. Among them are the first of three Jack Nicklaus courses to open at the new Cap Cana resort, the Ocean Royal hotel with 1,250 rooms, the Riu Palace with 612 junior suites, and the 177-room Altabella Sanctuary at Cap Cana.

Commercial Property News October 25, 2006:

The Dominican Republic's less popular northern coast will be receiving a boost with the development of AtlanticA, a 1,100-acre resort development poised to become the Caribbean's largest. Carlton Advisory Service's hospitality group, in a joint venture with an undisclosed New York-based private equity fund and developer Kingsport Partners, has announced that the $500 million first phase of construction is slated to begin November 1

The first phase will include an Arnold Palmer Signature golf course and clubhouse, 230 single-family estate homes and the boutique Casa AtlanticA hotel, with includes 80 rooms and 60 condos. The estimated build-out is 14 to 20 months.

Carlton's Hospitality Group has not been the only company looking into the Dominican Republic. In an exclusive interview with CPN in March, Trump Mortgage president & CEO E.J. Ridings hinted that Trump would be exploring potential resort projects in the country, although no specific ones have been announced.
The Carlton Group's own press release

Carlton Advisory Services? Chairman Howard L. Michaels announced that Carlton?s Hospitality Group has arranged a strategic equity joint venture partnership with a private equity investment management firm for the development of phase one of AtlanticA, a resort development located on the picturesque Northern Coast of the Dominican Republic at the Bay of Luperon. AtlanticA when fully developed is expected to be one of the largest communities of its type in the Caribbean region.

AtlanticA?s joint venture partner will virtually fund the entire equity requirement and the estimated development costs for phase one are in excess of $500 million. The developer, Kingsport Partners, has conceived a brilliant master plan to launch phase one that will include a super luxury boutique hotel, an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course and Clubhouse as well as Ocean and Golf Estates that will range from 3,500 to 7,500 square feet with magnificent ocean and golf course views.


This transaction was arranged by Carlton?s Hospitality Group executives Kenneth L. Herzberg, Brendan P. Sullivan and Will Lee.
"I was told this evening that construction was to be started asap. They have received the first instalment of the funding and plans are being ramped up in a hurry."

New York Times Cctober 29th (Sunday) edition :

The Dominican Republic Offers a New Place in the Sun - New York Times


The Sanctuary Cap Cana, a boutique hotel with eight restaurants within a larger $500 million development, has a low-key opening scheduled for Feb. 1; before then, Jack Nicklaus will be flying in to open one of his Signature golf courses, with nine of the holes on the water.

Time was the Dominican Republic was famous for its bargain getaways: $1,000 for a flight-included, all-inclusive resort where the food was passable, the drinks strong and the merengue music festive. (Actually, that time was only a year or two ago, and the bargains are still there.) But the country is increasingly becoming the five-star playground of the Caribbean, pulling in tourists that might otherwise have gone to Jamaica, Puerto Rico or St. Thomas and gearing up to give the glamour spots of Anguilla, St. Bart?s and Turks and Caicos a run for their money.


As the winter season approaches, the Dominican Republic has all but been anointed with ?it-destination? status by celebrities, travel magazines and tour operators
With thousands of pricey hotel rooms and luxury second homes planned for the next decade, and paparazzi-drawing celebrities like the Clintons, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julio Iglesias, Vin Diesel and Brad Pitt popping in for work or play or both, this is only the beginning. The Roco Ki real estate venture will open the Westin Roco Ki Beach and Golf Resort in Punta Cana in winter 2007, and is planning at least seven high-end hotels, in a resort that gives a nod to the Ta?no Indians who lived on the island before Columbus arrived. (It financed an archaeological dig on its land before beginning construction and is considering opening a museum nearby with the findings.) It is also a residential community: there was $100 million in sales the day those homes went on the market in April 2005, according to Nick Tawil Fernandez, the chief executive officer.
Cap Cana has about 30,000 acres south of Tortuga Bay, and villas are on sale from $750,000; in addition to the Sanctuary Cap Cana, its marina, whose debut is this December, will eventually have 1,000 slips. And it?s not just on the east coast that all this action is taking place: in Saman?, the paradisiacal peninsula on the north coast visited by humpback whales, the Gran Bah?a Pr?ncipe chain is opening no less than four five-star hotels for the winter season.

And there is much near-virgin beach still being scoured: Fernando Rainieri, a former tourism secretary and the brother of the Punta Cana pioneer Frank Rainieri, is part of a group of Dominican investors that includes the wealthy Najri family, that bought some beachfront land in 1997 in Miches, the largely undeveloped area between the resorts of Saman? and Punta Cana. They?ve recently been negotiating with a group of American and Canadian investors. (Howard Kerzner, whose company owns the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas and many others, recently died in a helicopter crash on his way to scout out land in the north.)

New York Times:

Roco Ki's Westin Resort is one of at least seven planned high-end hotels in that resort community, which also includes the Tom Fazio designed golf course currently under construction. ..Nick Faldo's Roco Ki is one of ~20 planned/under construction course in the island.

Here's another one: Corales (this one is a Tom Fazio Signature course)

..can we now dub what's coming a Golden Age?