There’s no doubt that modern travel is heavily impacted by the wealth of information we can access online and through the media.
We keep an eye on world events so we can stay safe during our travels, and we’re not likely to travel in the grips of an epidemic, in the midst of civil conflict, or basically anywhere that may put our lives in danger.
This year, one nation in particular has seen just how seriously the media can impact travel and they’re really not happy about the outcome.
A Death Trap?
That’s what many Americans have been thinking about the Dominican Republic in the last year.
While we may hear news coverage of tourists dying in foreign nations due to violence, it’s often not publicized when someone passes away due to “natural causes” while away from home.
Sure, it happens – a heart attack here, a swift-acting respiratory illness there – but it happened a lot in the DR in 2019.
In just the first six months of this year, eleven Americans died under strange circumstances. Not a day went by last summer that we didn’t hear all the conspiracy theories and guesstimates about what was happening.
Looking back now, at least three of those deaths have been ruled as “natural causes,” that is, they were not poisoned by their mini-bars or some lethal cleaning product used in resorts.
But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that the other cases are still under investigation.
In 2017, 17 Americans died while traveling in the DR. In 2018, another 13. By all accounts, 2019 was going to give those years a run for their money.
For whatever reason, thankfully, the spate of mysterious deaths came to an end. You can bet if they hadn’t, we’d still be hearing about it on a daily basis.
It was the fact that so many exclusively American tourists died within such a short span of time at DR resorts that led to such extensive media coverage.
While I’m in no hurry to visit anytime soon, the Dominican Republic’s tourist death rate is far less than that of many other countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Philippines.
Violence, drownings, and human stupidity – like going out alone late at night (something even Dominicans say they don’t do unless necessary) – happens in every country.
And while most of the 2019 deaths are still under investigation, Dominicans want us to know it’s not their fault you don’t want to visit.
It’s the media’s fault!
Because Americans die all over the world when traveling, the Tourism Minister of the Dominican Republic stated in June that the deaths were a “statistically normal phenomenon” being harped on by the U.S. media.
Well, death may be a normal part of life, but it’s never normal when it’s happening to you.
We all know the mainstream media is biased. They’ll do just about anything for a good story and spin it to benefit their bottom-line.
But sometimes, they do offer some valuable information, like “If you go to the Dominican Republic, don’t drink anything!!! Seriously!!”
This year’s suspicious American deaths aren’t the only downsides to visiting the DR.
There are always risks when traveling, and Proud American Traveler was on top of this story to keep our loyal readers informed about these tragic deaths and other dangers in the Dominican Republic.
Whether it was a water-borne bacteria, some mix-up with cleaning products, or tainted alcohol in tourist’s drinks, Americans needed to know to be careful in the DR last summer.
I mean, 11 Americans dying under similar circumstances is unusual.
But because the media was actually doing their job this time – albeit with excited fervor at the breadth of the story – people in the DR are angry.
While conclusions may have been jumped to, the fact remained that something was going on there last summer. And most of us don’t want to be the next statistic on the evening news.
Now, having said that, it is true that the negative coverage of all these deaths put a major chink in the tourism industry in the DR.
Yes, it’s the media’s fault, but “negative attacks by the U.S. media” is exaggerating a bit. There’s no denying it was a pretty suspicious summer in the DR.
The Blame Game
Even though the story has died down, the fact remains that the economy of the Dominican Republic – heavily dependent on tourism – has suffered for it.
Dominican Today reports that tourism dropped by over 120,000 tourists in the first nine months of this year compared to the same time period in 2018.
While that may not seem like much given their claims that the U.S. media was using scare tactics to keep Americans from traveling to the DR, it’s pretty significant when a booming U.S. economy is spurring travel to nearly every other tourist destination in the world.
And more importantly, this drop in tourism comes at a loss of nearly 140 million dollars to the Dominican Republic’s bottom line. It’s not a wealthy nation, and this loss has definitely hit small, local businesses hard.
Most of the drop was, indeed, comprised of North American tourists who wanted to avoid the DR like the plague – not surprising since most of the news coverage came from American outlets.
Local officials and residents don’t know why all these Americans died earlier this year. They feel bad, but they want another chance to prove what a great destination their country is.
“Use common sense.”
It may be a tall order for people traveling to a sun-soaked tropical destination where alcohol and fun go hand-in-hand, but Dominicans are simply saying to use common sense – just as you would traveling to any other destination.
Don’t drive under the influence. Check – never a good idea, no matter where you are. Don’t go out alone late at night. Check, also never a good idea. Don’t mix alcohol with medications. Okay, all good tips.
But then, some more advice that’s more specific to this year’s string of deaths: Book a local hotel or bed and breakfast that has received good reviews instead of one of the mega “all inclusive” resorts.
Do your research and make sure you’re healthy enough to endure the stress of traveling. (Isn’t this supposed to be a tropical paradise that I’m visiting to get away from the stress?!)
“Be careful about the water you drink, swim in, and use as ice. Make sure to wash any fruits, vegetables, or other foods in safely purified water,” according to Dominican Today.
That one’s a little trickier – and a little scarier. Because, after all, we still don’t know what happened to all these Americans, and it’s a little coincidental that many of them drank something prior to their quick and unexpected deaths.
But, if you are careful and you do use common sense, it might be the best time to visit the Dominican Republic.
It’s the law of supply and demand. Demand is low right now. Local businesses need your tourism dollars before the economy is damaged beyond repair. And you just might have a lot more space and a lot more quiet in which to relax since it won’t be as crowded.
The Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana even removed mini-bars from their guest rooms after feedback from tourists. That one might be a safe bet for your stay — not as much temptation to take a risk.
If you’re one who thinks, “When my time’s up, it’s up,” then you probably aren’t worried about going to the Dominican Republic.
If you’re looking for a bargain, now may be the perfect time to book a trip to the Dominican Republic.
But do your research, be careful, and stay informed about any risks with Proud American Traveler.