The General Manager of the Canoa Coral by Hilton, Luis Liriano, studied at Cornell University in the United States and has distinctions in Food and Beverage Management. He was awarded Best General Manager whilst working at the Coral Marien and Best Guest Comments whilst positioned at Allegro Resorts. Caribbean Weekly spoke recently with Mr. Liriano about tourism in the Dominican Republic and what the future holds.
CW: How is business?
LL: Business at the moment is very good. Here at the Canoa Coral by Hilton we have 532 rooms and at present we are running at around 70 percent occupancy. From January to June we generally average 81 percent occupancy. Following 9/11 things were difficult but I feel that people are now of the philosophy that life must continue. People have adapted and are not afraid to travel. The SAR’s outbreak caused some problems as Canada is part of our main market.
CW: How long have you been in the industry?
LL: In the Dominican Republic I have been in the industry for around 13 years, I have also worked in other areas of the Caribbean including St. Kitts. I have been with the Coral Hilton group now for four years.
CW: How many visitors do you get from the UK?
LL: The market share from the UK is very substantial at around 10 - 15 percent. We also have visitors from European countries such as France and Italy.
CW: In the DR there is a government system that ensures that hotels give a percentage of overall revenue back to staff. Do you offer your staff any other benefits or incentives?
LL: The Hilton group offers its staff many facilities. This year we will be opening a new school that will offer our executives etc the chance to take a masters degree in order to further their careers, this program is paid for by the Hilton Group. We help in the poorer areas of the community by supplying libraries, and at the Canoa we offer a summer school for employee’s children. They may come to the resort and make use of the facilities under professional supervision.
CW: What improvements do your feel could be made to the promotion and marketing of the Dominican Republic?
LL: Here in the Dominican Republic we have the opportunity to increase occupancy and expand our market, but this requires more promotion. I look at other Islands in the Caribbean and they are more aggressive, yet they do not have the product that the Dominican Republic can offer. We offer a very low price for a very large service. In the Dominican Republic we do not have a drug problem and, unlike other Islands, tourists can explore freely and safely. When classifying the quality of a hotel there needs to be some kind of price margin, some of the prices are slipping too low and the market is becoming to competitive. Every hotel that is offering four-star quality should not drop below a particular price. This avoids price wars and cost cutting measures.
CW: What are your views on the cruise industry? Do you feel that it is damaging land-based tourism?
LL: The cruise industry helps. It lets people have a taste of many different areas and then allows them to have the choice of coming back and visiting next year. Many cruise tourists visit the Dominican Republic and then choose to visit the Island the following year. Foreign money allows local business’s to increase productivity. As a hotelier I have no problems with the cruise industry, I would suggest that the infrastructure allowing cruise liners to dock in the Dominican Republic is improved to allow even more vessels to arrive.
CW: What are your views on the Internet and the benefits that it has had for the travel sector?
LL: I like the Internet; it has had a very positive effect for the hotel industry. It’s one more tool for the consumer, enabling them to have the choice and freedom to plan and book their own holiday. There is no need to leave the desk; in a time when people are becoming increasingly busier this is a very good thing. The Internet system in the Dominican Republic has come a long way in the last five years but still needs a lot of work and improvements made.
CW: How much of your food is produced locally?
LL: The majority of the food at the Coral Hilton is sourced locally. The only items that we actually import are meats and international brand liquors. That way we are ensuring the freshness and quality of the product. Also backing the national product, thus assisting the local market.
CW: Whilst travelling around the country, Caribbean Weekly has observed that the quality of the roads are fairly low, pebbled with pot holes and poor surface structure. From the amount of revenue that the hotel industry generates would it not make sense to invest in improving such essential services?
LL: If you had arrived five years ago you would have really experienced a poor road system! Back then the roads were, I would say, 90 percent worse! We are working on roads and steadily they will improve. There needs to be better sign layout and more education regarding the infrastructure.
CW: Finally, What are your views on the future of the Dominican Republic?
LL: Here is the Dominican Republic we have a great future ahead of us. We are moving rapidly, but of course we can improve. I have hope for government investment - both nationally and internationally. This will ensure that the Dominican Republic remains one of the leading destinations in the Caribbean. We have learnt a lot over the last ten years, the development has been unimaginable, there has been constant foreign investment, for instance from America with the Hilton group. Our air infrastructure is second to none and with planning we could see the arrival of many more visitors. We are a very safe Island free of terrorism and other international threats. We must work hard to ensure that we are seen as a number one destination.