The Dominican Republic is the second largest country in the Caribbean and home to some of the happiest people you will ever meet (in our Country Manager Bernardo Duran’s unbiased words). It shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and is home to just over 11 million people. When you Google image search ‘Dominican Republic’, you will largely find yourself looking at photos of bright blue waters fringed by glistening white sand beaches. And while we love selling seaside holidays to those epic beaches, there is more to the DR than its famous ‘sun, sand, and sea’.
The tropical nation boasts the highest mountain peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, and the largest lake, Lake Enriquillo. Roughly 40% of the country is covered by forest and is inhabited by over 1,000 diverse vertebrate fauna species. Its capital, Santo Domingo, was the first established Spanish colony of the New World, a history that is uniquely reflected in its architecture.
We spoke to Bernardo Duran to find out what more there is to the Dominican Republic and how Discova is growing its product offering here.
Bernardo has taken on several roles during his 8+ years at Discova.
“I started out as a Fleet Executive, and at first I had only signed up for that role for six months. But after four months I got a promotion to become a Sales Assistant. At the time we had just one Sales Manager for 45 In-destination Hosts, so I stepped in as a support role for the next one and a half years. After that, I was promoted to Sales Manager – they needed someone to fill the position and I’d gained a lot knowledge by that point and had great engagement with the team. I covered that role for the next five years.”
“When Covid happened, we had to let a lot of people go, and I stepped in to run both the Sales and the Operations department. I have to say that that time was very humbling. Leading both these departments at the same time was very challenging. I knew I needed to make a decision and lead just one area, and so I ended up opting to lead just the Operations team to broaden my knowledge base as a leader. It was a huge learning experience. And after one year, I got promoted to Country Manager [April 2023].”
“Basically, I’m the perfect example to say working with Discova is ‘a world of possibilities’, because I started out as a Fleet Executive and now I’m in the highest position for the Dominican Republic. That shows anyone in my team that they can follow the same path if they want.”
“We used to be 152 staff, with five office locations spread out throughout the Dominican Republic. But unfortunately, the pandemic hit us quite hard, so we had to cut back significantly. We’re 30 people now and all based in Punta Cana. We’re really aiming to get back to what we used to be and grow a lot. The great thing is that we’re a young team so we have lots of new and fresh ideas, so we can start doing things differently.”
“The Dominican Republic is one of our “sun, sand and sea” destinations. Americans love the Dominican Republic because it’s a short trip between the US and here. But I actually want to expand that and focus more on multi-day itineraries, because the Dominican Republic really has it all, and I want to shift the focus from Punta Cana to other areas of the country.”
“There are incredible nature spots, and we want to draw attention to less visited places. For example, we’re looking at creating itineraries to the northern region of the country, which is more local. If we can connect with the community and grow tourism there, we can give back to the local in a broader sense.
In order to do so I really want to grow the team in the next 12 months, starting by recruiting a Product Development Manager. This person would in particular be there to develop multi-day itineraries and to explore the Dominican Republic in greater depth. We will also need a Sales Leader in the future as numbers here continue to grow.”
“What’s exciting right now is that we have our Product Designer for the Americas, Carlos Molina, and Bryan Garcia, our Contracting Manager for Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, joining us here soon to help us grow our business and connections with local suppliers, in-person. Carlos and Bryan will visit us for a few weeks to explore the destination and have a clear idea of what can be done in terms of itineraries for the future and creating unique experiences.”
When asked where specifically he hopes to grow Discova’s product portfolio in the Dominican Republic, Bernardo has a few top priorities.
“We love what we offer right now, but we want to provide something different, not the usual experiences, the boat parties, Saona Island, spa getaways…something focused more on sustainability and local culture, on visiting national parks and our fishing towns and getting to know the day-to-day lives of locals outside of the country’s resorts.
We’ve just signed a new supplier experience for a unique cooking class, where customers will get to learn how to make Dominican dishes with a professional chef. What makes this class special is that customers will learn how to make Dominican recipes from various regions in the country, but also from traditional Taino roots. They can make Dominican sancocho soup or Caribbean lobster, for example. We’ve incorporated this class into our first multi-day itinerary this month, and we hope that the travellers will love it.”
When asked which part of the country people would be most surprised about, that isn’t spoken about nearly enough, Bernardo immediately mentions the Samaná region.
“The Samaná region is basically like an island, it’s in the northeast of the country. It’s stunning. There are these amazing waterfalls, national parks, caves, humpback whales… And it’s not very popular. The energy here is much more local, and that’s really something I want to showcase. The local fishermen, the local restaurants. It’s much less touristic than other parts of the country.”
“And then there’s Bahia de las Aguilas in the south of the Dominican Republic. It’s a virgin beach and it’s quite remote. It’s amazing. There’s nothing there, no resorts, no restaurants. You have to take a speedboat from Cabo Rojo, which is about six or seven hours’ drive from Punta Cana, or a one-and-half-hour plane ride.”
“These are the two places people rarely speak about, because everyone is talking about Saona, the most popular island in the Dominican Republic, or about Santo Domingo, or Punta Cana. Our team would love to share more of the unknown parts of the country.”
“It’s becoming cheaper to fly here. The Dominican Republic has a number of low cost airlines that serve affordable domestic routes and flights to South America, Central America and North America. Arajet is one and relatively new [launched last year], flying direct between Santo Domingo and many cities in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, as well as Toronto, Canada, and they want to soon launch flights to the United States and Europe too. Then there is SKYHigh, which serves direct flights to the US, specifically Miami and Providence, Rhode Island.”
“In August, another local airline, called ReefJet, launced a new route. It flies direct from Santiago de los Caballeros [a short drive from popular coastal city, Puerto Plata] to Punta Cana, so we’re basically connecting the most popular regions, the north, with the east. So that’s pretty amazing because it will make it easier for travellers to see more of the Dominican Republic. And we hope to connect and grow a business relationship with ReefJet so that we can more easily build multi-day itineraries that combine both these regions of the country. A round-trip between these cities starts from as cheap as 89 USD, so it’s really affordable. They are also the only airline to now fly to that beautiful Bahia de las Aguilas region in the south.
These new flight routes will make it easier for Discova to offer multi-day itineraries that cover more of the Dominican Republic, and show off parts that travellers normally skip.
Expand your offering in the Dominican Republic
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