La Romana is one of those confusing tourist names that can actually mean three different things, though all are connected to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. The first usage of La Romana is a shortened description of the major airport of the country: La Romana International Airport, which deals specifically with inter-Caribbean flights and visitors primarily from New York’s John F Kennedy Airport. The second usage is as a description of a province of La Romana, which in turn spurns the third usage – La Romana is the capital city of the province of the same name. This confusing tri-usage is actually a recent invention – until 1968, the province now known as La Romana was incorporated in the nearby (and much larger) province of La Altagracia. However, with tourist literature and promotional materials, it is nearly always safe to say that La Romana refers to the city.
The city of La Romana is the third largest in the entire Dominican Republic, with a population of around 250,000 according to a 2006 census. The name ‘Romana’ comes from the cities history as a trade port, as it also means a balance that is used to weigh merchandise and goods prior to export.
La Romana is an intriguing city, as unlike many cities of the Dominican Republic it is a company town. The majority of the city is owned by the Central Romana Corporation, which does ensure an employment rate of nearly 100 per cent, a staggering figure considering the general population unemployment of the entire Dominican Republic is over 40 per cent. The one company ownership stems from 1917, when the South Puerto Rico Sugar Company built the Central Romana mill.
The ownership passed through various hands in the coming decades, with a big change coming in 1968. Gulf+Western, a tobacco company, made the decision that year to move their entire cigar making industry from the Spanish Canary Islands to La Romana. To this day, the Tabacalera de Garcia factory and industry is one of the largest cigar producers in the world, and several world famous brands are produced at La Romana, including: Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and Montecristo.
As well as the export trade, La Romana is also dependent on the tourist sector to keep employment levels high. There is a large all inclusive resort complex within the city, known as Casa De Campo, which was built in 1975 by Gulf+Western. The complex boasts three championship golf courses, one of which – the “Teeth of the Dog” – is ranked as the 25th best golf course in the world. There are also polo fields, an airstrip for private aircraft and other tourist activities such as horse riding and spa complexes.
There is also Altos de Chavon, which is a little more subtle than Casa de Campo in its presentation. Altos de Chavon is moments from the very center of La Romana, and is made as replica of 17th century native village. The area is a huge tourist attraction for those interested in native art and crafts, and features shops, workshops and galleries.