President Medina at DATE 2017

The annual DATE or Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange conference–known affectionately as DR DATE–kicked off this week in Bavaro,Punta Cana.

I’m here attending as press and covering the event for a trade publication (more on that soon) and for my website The show’s highlight so far, aside from the incredible updates about the state of the tourism industry in the DR (booming and booming), is President Danilo Medina’s impromptu visit on the first day of the conference. We knew he was already in the area for the inauguration of Secrets Cap Cana, but it wasn’t certain he’d stop by the show.

The press was notified just five minutes before his arrival. I’m grateful our organizer and fierce leader, Cathy Resek, in charge of international press for ASONAHORES (the Dominican hotel association)–gave us a heads up. It wasn’t long before he was already on the trade floor, and surrounded by crowds of local media, fans, and tourism professionals. I managed to get close to his circle, and noticed he was quite laid back and approachable.

I had my Moon Dominican Republic in hand, and for just a few seconds, a window opened where he was directly in front of me, saw me, and I approached him and said in Spanish, with a big smile, “I love your country so much, I wrote a book about it!” And flashed the book before him.

He looked at it, and back at me with awe and curiosity. By then I was right next to him and he stopped and asked me, amid the media frenzy, “De donde eres?” I told him I was a journalist from the US (no time to go into my crazy long, diverse life story!)

He then pointed to one of the men in his entourage, who was in front of us, and instructed him to take our photo (with my phone). Right after, he thanked me before I had a chance to do it first! It was a memorable moment. I’m grateful to President Medina for being open and warm–in true Dominican spirit.

Lebawit Lily Girma

A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on culture, adventure, and sustainable travel in the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

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