Santo Domingo is one of several Dominican Republic ports, including La Romana, Samaná and, starting in 2015, the major new Amber Cove near Puerto Plata on the north coast.
The Dominican Republic has been successful in positioning itself for air-based tourism, drawing 4.6m tourists a year with an annual 9.5% growth rate. 'We still have huge potential to grow cruise tourism,' Castillo said. 'The Dominican Republic is in the center of the Caribbean. We still have much more potential to gain market share.'
The country offers 500 years of history, shopping, gastronomy, beaches, watersports and whale-watching.
Castillo predicts the Carnival Corp. & plc-backed Amber Cove will bring in more than 200,000 passengers when it opens. That new port is 'great for the country,' he added. 'It shows we have different destinations with different offerings. Hopefully we can influence operators to visit more than one port.'
The variety is amplified in the current national tourism tagline: the Dominican Republic 'Has it all.' This aims to bring out what distinguishes each destination. In Santo Domingo's case, that's particularly history, culture, gastronomy and shopping.
A $30m Inter-American Development Bank loan is going to improvements and beautification such as expanding walkways and removing overhead electrical cables. The first stage of the work should be completed by end of this year. Castillo called this a major step in making the city more tourism-friendly.
Pullmantur's Horizon will begin embarking passengers in early December. Castillo said about half the capacity is expected to be French and many Dominicans are likely to sail, too.
The homeporting/interporting business is facilitated by Las Américas International Airport, with connections to 30 cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Atlanta, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and destinations across Latin America.
New highway infrastructure between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana and Santo Domingo and Samaná will shave hours from transit times and make a wider range of destinations more accessible overland.
From the Sansoucí and Don Diego terminals more than 30 excursions are offered, some quite innovative such as a city tour for the hearing impaired. Other offerings range from a focus on the dictator Trujillo to the Dolphin Park, a family water park with slides. Castillo noted Sansouci Ports has its own dredging equipment and posts bathymetry reports on its website.
Santo Domingo's passenger count is projected at 80,000 this season.