In March, I attended a trade show in the Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic. While there, I did site visits of many hotels and gained an appreciation for the region. Punta Cana is located in the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic, which makes up the largest part of the the island of Hispaniola.

The Punta Cana International Airport is the third largest in the Caribbean, after San Juan and Cancun, with a ton of direct flights from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. When you arrive, you are taken from the tarmac by bus to the customs and immigration area, under a huge palapa (an open-sided, thatched-roof structure) with no air-conditioning. It took more than an hour to clear immigration, and everyone must purchase a tourism card, which costs US$10, cash only. This card can be prepaid by a DMC, but that won’t shorten the wait. There was no signage and terribly confusing lines. All in all, it was not the most auspicious welcome to the country.
 

Punta Cana Resorts
About 20 minutes from the airport is the Melia Paradisus Palma Real Hotel. This all-inclusive resort has 554 guest suites, including 198 Royal Service suites with private butler and enhanced services. There is also a large convention center with 11,000-square-foot and 17,000-square-foot ballrooms, plus a good number of breakouts. They have a cool feature in their ballroom that I had never seen before, a built-in video wall, with additional flying screens halfway back.

Sleeping room in the Royal Service wing of Paradisus Palma Real

The complex is huge and sits right on the private beach. As in most huge properties, the Internet leaves much to be desired in terms of speed and connectivity. It only worked consistently in the Royal Service lounge, or under the palapas on the beach. This was nice, because if we cannot have Wi-Fi access on the beach, we might as well pack it in. The food was good, especially in the restaurants. The hotel has a separate area called the Reserve, a private enclave of 190 additional suites, which are larger and also offer butler service. The location of the Reserve rooms is a little strange, as it is very far from the beach, but the rooms are very nice. 
 

Sleeping room at Secrets Resort

The Secrets Resort and B complex is next door to the Melia Paradisus Palma Real. The 450-room Secrets resort is adults only, while the 822-room Now allows families. In between the two are some shared facilities, including the spa and meeting space, which has a 4,800-square-foot ballroom. Both hotels are very upscale, perfect for incentive groups. They are also all-inclusive properties, with very nice restaurants on site. Many of the rooms have private Jacuzzi tubs on the balcony or lanais.

About 30 minutes from the airport is the larger Paradisus hotel, the Punta Cana Resort, which offers 694 suites, including 80 Royal Service suites, and a Reserve area with an additional 122 rooms. This property is designed more for leisure or incentives, as the meeting space holds about 300 comfortably.

Standard room at the Hard Rock

One of the largest hotels in the Caribbean, the Hard Rock Punta Cana, is about 25 minutes from the airport. Its 1,771 rooms are spread through eight buildings. I have contracted with them for smaller groups, and they are very flexible about being able to contract all your rooms in one or two buildings. Each building has its own pool and bar, while the restaurants are in the main building.

This is an all-inclusive hotel, with a beautiful and huge pool area down by the beach, and an amazing casino in the main hotel. Two huge nightclubs charge a $30 entrance fee (only $15 for resort guests). The meeting space is great, including more than 65,000 square feet of indoor space, and dozens of outdoor terraces that can accommodate up to 2,500 guests for events. The 30,000-square-foot ballroom and the 19,000-square-foot ballroom each has its own private pre-function area. I loved this hotel, as it was the perfect mix of a Las Vegas and the Caribbean. I enjoyed a Zac Brown Band concert on the beach, under the stars, which was a pretty awesome way to cap an evening at the hotel. 
 

Sleeping room at the Westin in the Punta Cana Club

One of the largest European Plan hotels in Punta Cana, the 200-room Westin is in the Punta Cana Club complex about five minutes from the airport. Rooms are arranged in a U shape around the pool, and the hotel offers 5,000 square feet of meeting space. The complex also has a 124-room Sheraton Four Points, and the only five-diamond resort in the Dominican, the Tortuga Bay Resort, with 13 oceanfront villas. The rooms at the Westin are nice, but plain.

 

The lobby at the Iberostar Punta Cana

The all-inclusive Iberostar Punta Cana offers 506 rooms. The layout of the resort and the lobby reminded me of the Melià in Puerto Rico, and the hotel is a nice mid-tier property, perfect for more budget-minded groups.

I did not make it to either of the Barcelo hotels: The Dominican Beach property has 732 rooms, while the Bavaro Beach complex has 1,366 rooms and 80,000 square feet of meeting space. 
One word of advice for leaving from Punta Cana International Airport. Bring some ear plugs. There were constant, blaring announcements from the time I walked in to the time I blessedly left the terminal to board my plane. It was perpetual, the longest it was silent was three seconds. You do not need to pay a fee to leave, although I would have paid quite a bit to make the airport announcements stop. The new terminal is very nice, and has about six or seven gates. The old one is functional, but you can see why they built a new one.
 
All in all, Punta Cana is a great destination for incentives and groups. It is easy to access with a wide range of direct flights, it’s only a few hours’ flight from many U.S. gateways, and the people are very friendly. The hotel products are good, with some excellent offerings at all price points. The beaches are amazing, and the Caribbean sea is truly sparkling.
 

Timothy Arnold, CMP, CMM, is Regional Vice President with HPN Global, the Hospitality Performance Network. Watch for his destination reports from around the world, a regular MeetingsNet feature and part of our ideaXchange series.