“Why Dominican Republic is the destination for sun, fun, family and money – Economic Times You are here: Home>Collections>Costa CoffeeWhy Dominican Republic is the destination for sun, fun, family and destination|Dominican Republic
What does the Dominican Republic have in common with the likes of Cafe Coffee Day or Costa Coffee? They are both a great meeting place for near and dear ones, especially when visiting each other’s residence is not an option. Twenty one-year-old Sanjay Tandon (name changed on request) discovered this linkage two years ago, quite by chance.
In 2010, he was a typical Indian-American teenager, going out clubbing with three friends on a typical Friday night in New Jersey. His family had moved to the United States 15 years earlier and his father runs a small restaurant in New Jersey.
But, later that evening, a car crash was to change his life forever. He drove his car into a utility pole, got hospitalised, and finally, got charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. When the judge at the district court spelt out his sentence, Tandon Junior realised that as a green card holder and a citizen of India, he had been given deportation orders.
While his parents and older brother had received their US citizenship papers, his application was still being processed and, therefore, the marching order could not be challenged. “My parents tried to appeal against the severe sentence but it was not rolled back and within a month I found myself in New Delhi with my uncle’s family,” he says.
Worse still, he faced a five-year ban on entering America. “I’ve settled down in the capital now, but that first year back was devastating because I really missed my family. A lot of money had been spent as legal expenses for me so they could not afford a trip to India to see me,” he adds.
Place For Family Reunions
Then, fortuitously, his brother’s marriage with a girl from the Dominican Republic made a family reunion possible. The newlyweds decided to go on a short honeymoon to a resort in Punta Cana, one of the popular beach destinations in the Caribbean island, and discovered the easy visa requirements for getting in.
“We suddenly realised that it would be quite easy for me to apply for a visa and get it processed within a short time. After more than a year, I met my brother and his wife for the first time. A week later, my parents joined us without breaking the bank since the place is well-connected to New York. It was a very emotional reunion,” recalls Tandon, adding that the family has met up five times in the Dominican Republic over the past two years. “Living in India is not such a problem anymore. In fact, I’m doing well in my business and am even considering settling down in Delhi,” he claims.
Like the Tandons, many other truncated Indian families are turning to the Dominican Republic as a new destination for family meetings and reunions. The trend is most visible among Indians living in the US, UK and Canada.
“One of the reasons for the big growth in the number of visitors from India is that we have simplified our visa rules. The embassy in Delhi can issue a visa within 24 hours, which is the shortest possible time for any country. Besides, those with valid Schengen, UK, Canada and US visas can travel to the Dominican Republic without a visa and will be issued a tourist card on arrival,” says Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, the island country’s ambassador to India.
The embassy has recently appointed a dedicated official to coordinate brochures and material in Indian languages to help Indian visa seekers.
According to Castellanos, the country is already very popular among the NRIs for destination weddings. “While young Indians in the US and Canada find the exotic beaches of the Dominican Republic very attractive as wedding destinations, it is also simpler for family members from India such as aunts, grandmothers and cousins, to participate in such events because of our relaxed visa rules,” explains Castellanos.
Take Harsh Kalra and Pooja Vachani, two first generation Indian American software professionals based in Manhattan, who got married in the island nation in late 2009.
“We wanted to do a destination wedding in the Caribbean to be able to relax in a tropical island atmosphere with our friends and family and celebrate our big day with them. We picked the Dominican Republic since it would be the easiest area to get to for most of our guests from various parts of the United States and India. Besides, the resort at Punta Cana offered the best bang for the buck at the time with respect to hosting a wedding at a very reasonable cost,” says Kalra. The resort even had a large gazebo which was turned into a mandap for the wedding.
The trend seems to have picked up pace over the past couple of years. Says New York-based wedding photographer Karen Wise: “I have received a number of enquiries in the past couple of years to photograph Indian weddings in Punta Cana.” More tellingly, she finds the local people at the resorts in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean destination wedding hotspots “quite accustomed to the Indian extravaganza”.