Caribbean destinations

Dominican Republic seeks more flights as Cuba declines

Petra Cruz wants more direct flights from Germany to the Dominican Republic.
Tourist Board Dominicanian Republic
Petra Cruz wants more direct flights from Germany to the Dominican Republic.

The two biggest destinations in the Caribbean for German tourists face tough times this year as a lack of flights holds back the Dominican Republic and high prices weaken demand for Cuba.

The Dominican Republic has seen the number of German visitors fall back significantly from the record figure of 265,000 set in 2017. Last year, nearly 217,000 Germans visited the country.

The main reason, according to Petra Cruz, the tourism board’s Europe director, is the insufficient number of direct flights from Germany. “The missing flight capacity resulting from the Air Berlin insolvency and the withdrawal of Azur Air at the end of 2017 are still being felt strongly,” she admits.

Her expectations for 2019 are cautious as a result. The number of German visitors between January and May dropped by 11% in contrast to a 4.7% rise in overall international tourist arrivals. Cruz would be happy “if we could close 2019 at last year’s level” on the German market.

However, she is already looking further ahead and pushing airlines strongly for more flight connections from next winter onwards. In her view, demand for the Dominican Republic is sufficient to justify more capacity based on feedback from roadshows and travel fairs and given that the country “still lies in first place by far in terms of booking enquiries for the Caribbean” according to figures from data analysts TrevoTrend.

But German airlines are calculating differently as tight capacity means a better chance of good yields. Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings and Condor are the only two carriers of note at present.

This summer there are 12 weekly nonstop flights from Germany compared to 19 last year, while there will be 15 flights a week next winter compared to 20 last winter. Punta Cana will be the top destination again in winter 2019/20 with 11 weekly flights. In addition, Schauinsland-Reisen will have a full charter with Lufthansa from Munich. DER Touristik will have twice-weekly full charters with Condor from Frankfurt, once to Samaná and once to Puerto Plata.

Meanwhile, Cuba looks to be steering towards another weak year on the German market. After years of strong double-digit growth, German visitor numbers stagnated in 2017 and then dropped by 14% to 208,000 last year. Higher hotel prices, insufficient quality and poor service were blamed by tour operators for this decline.

Prospects for 2019 look poor again as prices remain higher than in the Dominican Republic and none of the major German tour operators (apart from FTI) has expanded capacity significantly for the coming winter season.

However, Cuba’s tourism industry will be hit hardest this year by the US decision to ban all US cruise ships from docking on the island from June onwards. This could mean that at least 600,000 and perhaps up to 800,000 fewer cruise tourists will arrive in the second half of 2019, according to estimates. The higher figure represents 17% of the island’s total number of tourists per year.