“The Dominican Republic urgently needs a sustainable tourism development strategy and an update of the Tourism Law”

Lissette Gil and Edwin Aristy share the same criteria about tourism in the Dominican Republic.

The specialist in sustainable tourism and the national tourism guide agree that there is no comprehensive vision of development of tourist destinations in the country and that a Law is needed to regulate the sector based on sustainability criteria. Former executive director of the Dominican Tourism Competitiveness Consortium (CDCT), Gil has addressed, insisted and warned about the issue for years, sometimes forcefully, as she did this week at the LISTÍN DIARIO Green Meeting.

What does the Dominican Republic have to do to make the transition from current tourism to one of the 21st century?

LG. The Dominican Republic has made great progress in terms of diversifying its offer; Tourism has continued to grow in many destinations in the national territory, but not associated with sustainability criteria that, today, are absolutely necessary for present and future harmonious development. This is mainly due to the fact that the development of Dominican tourism does not have a tourism planning strategy that pursues sustainable, resilient and regenerative destinations, that meets the real characteristics and capacities of each territory, but rather responds to the demand for local investment. or foreign, and a political agenda, which undoubtedly impact development today but which tomorrow could be a problem for the territory itself and even for the same investors and residents.

Is there a comprehensive vision of the territories that responds to the 21st century?

LG. From my point of view there is no comprehensive vision of development of Dominican tourist destinations. Development in Dominican destinations responds to the demand for investment and not necessarily to the well-being of its inhabitants, when it should be the other way around. It is thought that job creation is achieved by improving local conditions, but what happens if tourism development consumes the water actually available in the territory? The most affected will always be the permanent residents who will suffer the consequences only because of non-existent planning. Tourists come and go, investors come and go, politicians come and go. The communities are permanent in the destinations and, many times, the ones that are least thought of.

How much progress has been made in the planning of the country’s tourist destinations based on rigorous sustainability criteria such as the environmental, social and economic pillars?

LG. Very little progress has been made, from my perspective, in tourism planning issues in the country’s destinations. And this is because there are still many officials and businessmen in the sector who associate the issue of sustainability solely with environmental and conservation criteria, and nothing is further from the truth. Sustainability also considers socioeconomic, sociocultural and management aspects in addition to environmental aspects. Without this perfect balance between these four dimensions, sustainability is not achieved. I think that we still have a lot to understand, as a tourist country, the importance of the concept of sustainability, resilience and regeneration. And we must get in tune soon, since these are the concepts that mark the strategic lines of development of destinations in the 21st century. In the social sphere, it is essential to promote participatory governance in decision-making in tourist destinations, since this will affect or benefit people; and only with participatory governance can the ordering plans that are required so that tourist areas develop coherently, orderly, and respecting healthy coexistence between residents and visitors, be required.

What are the main impacts if the planning does not take into account the environmental, social and economic pillars?

The impacts associated with poor or non-existent planning is a chaotic development, where water consumption is not planned, nor is the management of solid waste or wastewater; where the accesses are not planned, nor the collateral population growth associated with tourism development; a development where the conservation of the ecosystems that are the main tourist attraction of the destinations is not contemplated. A destination without planning creates infrastructures without thinking about the real market (Barahona airport) generating enormous expenses that are later forgotten. An unplanned and unmanaged tourist destination is prone to constant violation of laws and regulations, pirate companies appear, it is built wherever and however it is, and almost irreversible results are achieved, as in many destinations in our country. The planning of tourist destinations is still a pending task in the Dominican Republic, mainly because for decades it has been the style for ministers to come to office to mark a management with their seal and not to follow a coherent long-term strategy. They bet on picazo and photo, and not on order and the law.

In Cabo Rojo and Samaná, is there a territorial planning and tourism planning process as steps prior to sustainable development?

Cabo Rojo is one of the spaces with tourist potential that has historically had the most development proposals in our country. The unfortunate thing is that the new executions respond to a demand for immediate development, due to a political situation that prefers the block and the rod, to a rational management of investments while preserving the real attraction of Pedernales: its nature. Despite the warnings from scientists and specialists, in Pedernales the opposite is being done to the technical recommendations of people who have real knowledge of the territory. So we can say that in Pedernales there is a plan tailored to political needs and not tailored to what could really be achieved in a space as rich as that province.

How do you envision Dominican tourism in the coming years if we do not switch to a sustainable model?

Well, in the future we will have to advocate a reengineering of destinations to correct unplanned development. Stories that we have already experienced in the past with cases such as Puerto Plata or Juan Dolio; Both spaces, due to their own unplanned and unmanaged development, were affected by strong tourist crises that impacted investments and the local economy. Both destinations have had to reinvent themselves, the first turning to a more diversified proposal that incorporates a strong commitment to cruises whose consequences we are unaware of; and the second made a shift towards a real estate tourism destination, the consequences of which we can only project if compared with similar international models.

Tourism planning is not a static proposal, but must be flexible and adapt to the rapid changes of the new times. But for that there must be a common goal, a public-private alliance that glimpses the future beyond four years and is projected. A planning that seeks to guarantee the quality of life of the residents; tourist satisfaction and safety; the conservation of natural spaces; the management of water resources and soil; compliance with the laws, but above all understanding that the saying “bread for today and hunger for tomorrow” perfectly reflects the spirit of unsustainable and unplanned development.

Just two years ago you highlighted the lack of planning of the country’s tourist destinations based on sustainability criteria as the first obstacle to sustainable development. Do you think that the National Development Strategy (END) is ignored?

I reiterate the same position. The Destinations of the Future International Conference was recently held in Bávaro, where local and foreign experts discussed different topics related to the management of tourist territories. One theme was recurring, both by tourism entrepreneurs and by local and international technicians: the Dominican Republic urgently needs a sustainable tourism development strategy and an update of the Tourism Law. This fact alone makes it clear that the END mandate has been ignored.

Community and mountain tourism has grown a lot, but the same It is perceived as a counter offer to the sun model, sand and sea (sun, sand and beach), as a kind of competition. How do both models harmonize in sustainable tourism?

Sustainability criteria must be applied to any type of tourism, sun and beach tourism, community tourism, health tourism, nature tourism, or adventure tourism. In our country we have seen with pleasure and surprise how many resorts all inclusive they have rigorously assumed sustainability and in some cases clear actions to regenerate ecosystems. In no case is the TCS the competition of the SSS model, with complementary ones, and what they do is diversify the offer and the opportunities to have different experiences in the Dominican Republic by the tourists who visit us.

What we must be clear about is that any type of tourism must assume the perfect balance between the business, the social and the environmental, only in this way will it maintain its levels of competitiveness today and in the future.


Interview. Lissette Gil and Edwin Aristy answered questions from Yvonne Arias, coordinator of the Green Meeting; Eladia Gesto, Manager of Environmental Management and Conservation Programs at the Propagás Foundation, and LISTÍN DIARIO.

Edwin Aristy: “The sustainable concept has been relaxed and overused”