Open letter to American tourists and the Dominican Republic tourism industry
This week I went on Spring Break with my friends to the Dominican Republic. Our group is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. We stayed at all-inclusive hotel in the resort town of Punta Cana, the eastern-most province of the DR. I didn’t do any research prior to getting on the plane, so I came into the trip with a “blank slate.” This is an account of what I learned.
It’s a beautiful place. Tourism comprises about 30 percent DR’s GDP. There are more than 50 mega-resorts in Punta Cana. Our resort was huge, with a large expansion underway. Tourism is booming. The service industry provides some of the highest paying jobs in DR, ranging from $200 – $400 a month (tips not included). Still, anyone who has waited tables or bartended knows the service industry is a tough business. People have a way of being rude to service workers.
Most of the people at our resort were Americans. Americans in a hurry. Americans who paid their money for an all-inclusive trip and expected to receive all the excesses they were entitled to. I caught a couple of subtle eye-rolls between the staff on the first day, while watching the staff assist an unhappy American with some creature comfort. Every day after, I witnessed a very professional staff smile through rude interactions with Americans over-eating, over-drinking, and over-complaining. Americans ordering way more food that than could eat (including me). It was shameful. The “It’s an all-inclusive, so who cares?” mindset is pervasive and difficult to resist because you’re immersed in a hypnotic environment of carefully orchestrated lighting, sounds, and activities all designed to alter your normal self.
To be fair, part of the allure of an all-inclusive resort is designed to cater to over-indulgence. Our resort was Now Onyx. The property is well-designed and well-programmed from a marketing perspective. Even though it’s all you can eat and all you can drink, there are many ways customers can pay to upgrade their services, from Preferred Memberships that provide special access to certain pools, lounges, and premium alcohol, to dinners on the beach, to weddings, and more. It plays nicely into the more = better mindset, which seems to be the Achilles Heel for Americans.
One of the side-effects of hyper-consumerism and hedonism is that people lose their humanity and start treating the helpful service staff with indignance. I saw one middle-aged American man griping out a female manager with his finger in her face because some high school students were in the Preferred pool area, ruining his family vacation. You know what? He had a good point – the Spring Breakers didn’t have permission to use that special area, but the way he handled it perfectly encapsulated was going on here. He is actually a nice guy from Massachusetts with a nice family, who just went overboard.
It would be difficult for most staff to replace their income by quitting and working in a different industry. In a sense, the tourism service workers are stuck dealing with rude, entitled people who largely don’t speak Spanish. It seemed like the Americans expected the Dominicans to speak English. These realities are likely magnified at alcohol-fueled all-inclusive resorts.
This letter is for Alarilla Aragon, Onyx manager, who demonstrated superb poise and professionalism while dealing with an irate American who mistook being right as an excuse for being mean. Many thanks to the wonderful Dominicans at the Now Onyx resort and all those in the general tourism industry: Americans are not like what I witnessed. We are better than that. This letter is also for Americans traveling to the Dominican Republic or anywhere else in the world: Be patient and gracious to your hosts. Remember that you are guests in their country. Leave the host country with a better image of the United States than when you arrived.
Senior, Booker T. Washington High School, Tulsa, OK
Incoming Freshman, John Cabot University – International Studies