Jesùs Berroa works for Turissol, the agency of social, conscious and sustainable tourism in the Dominican Republic.
Tourism is very important in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, for the moment there is still a vicious circle in the country that makes the rich only richer and that doesn’t help the poor communities to develop themselves.
‘We have to change this vicious circle into a virtuous circle’, says Jesús Berroa. He wants to bring more diversity into the touristic products of the country, so that they can offer alternative destinations than only the sun, sea and beach holidays, which are the typical images of the Dominican Republic in tourist’s mind up to now. ‘And our country has so much more to offer’, says Jesús.
"In the Dominican Republic people are very welcoming, it’s in their nature and you notice this in everything: they invite you to share their smile, their food, their home and even their bed." Jesùs Berroa
To make this change, Jesùs explains that it's necessary that the government initiates a good formation for the local communities, so that they can discover the potential of their region and can act as promotors of their own destination. Also, the tourism industry needs to become more sustainable. The government has to take care of the environment and of honest salaries for people who work in the tourist sector.
Actions to be supported
Turissol is already involved in a project of a couple of ecological hotels, where the employees are paid well. Above all, to develop a sustainable tourist industry, it is necessary that local tourism agencies get better support. Up to now, the money that enters the country through tourism, is mainly a source of income for the big tour operators rather than for the local agencies.
The importance of a holiday, also for locals
‘Being able to take vacation is so important’, says Jesús. ‘I remember the image of my father working in the construction of hotels and never being able to sleep there himself even for one night. That was such a contradiction for me’.
In the Dominican Republic it is allowed by law that people can take vacation, but the law doesn’t control this. In other words, you can take vacation but it’s not obligatory. Jesús explains: ‘You decide yourself if you take it or not. But when you know that in the law there don’t exist regulations about for example paid holidays, you can imagine that most of the people don’t go on holidays. They rather prefer to earn some more money.’ Therefore, the question isn’t only about the promotion of sustainable tourism, but also about making the local inhabitants conscious about the importance of holidays itself.
The real enrichment of life
‘Because for me holidays are an essential part in the quality of someone’s life’, Jesús says. ‘If you are not able to take vacation, then you only live to work and to enrich yourself and someone else financially. But real enrichment is not found in money, but in yourself: being able to breathe, to create space,…’.
Jesús explains that the poor people in de Dominican Republic generally aren’t so healthy, because they work too much and earn too little. ‘Holidays are so important to recover your health’. An image that pops up into Jesús’ mind, is one of ‘paradise-health’: a wellness recovery and holiday center where people for at least one week can come to recover from their hard work and bad health, where they can relax and get good food.
When I ask Jesús if this is his dream, he answers quite surprised ‘no’. ‘A dream is something you only have in mind, whereas I am already working on my ‘health-paradise’, he says smiling.
It is for sure that sustainable tourism has a big potential, not only for the local communities and for the tourist, but also for the world. ‘Tourism can be seen as a promotor of world peace, because when two cultures meet and become friends, they will protect each other’, says Jesús. In that view, tourism can definitely change things.