News is Hurting Dominican Republic Tourism

by Richard D'Ambrosio
News is Hurting Dominican Republic Tourism

Puerto Plata, one of the DR's most famous beach cities. Bookings to the island nation are down since reports about the deaths Americans in the DR. Photo: 

A month of mounting reports about the deaths of Americans visiting the Dominican Republic this year is starting to impact bookings, according to several sources.

The Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC) says that air ticket purchases made in the U.S. from June 1-23, 2019, for travel to the Dominican Republic, decreased by 10% when compared to the same period in 2018. (The first three U.S. traveler deaths were reported at the end of May.)

This is in contrast with the rest of the Caribbean and Mexico, which saw an overall gain in air travelers, ARC said. 

The island is also seeing a decline in interest from outside the U.S., where air ticket purchases for travel to the Dominican Republic made from June 1-23, 2019, decreased by 28% when compared to the same period in 2018.

Tickets to the Dominican Republic represented 4.62 million of 35 million global tickets purchased to Mexico and the Caribbean, ARC said.

At the same time, ForwardKeys, a travel technology company based in Valencia, Spain, reports that bookings for July and August from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic made from June 1-19, 2019, fell 74.3% compared to the same period in 2018. From the beginning of April to May 31, bookings had been up 2.8%, the company said.

While bookings are down, cancellations are up. According to a new survey conducted by the American Society of Travel Advisors, nearly 60% of travel advisors said U.S. clients have canceled trips to the Dominican Republic in the last week.

ARC reported a situation that appears even worse. According to the company, refunds for air ticket purchases to the Dominican Republic made in the U.S. from Jan. 1- June 23, 2019, increased 127% when compared to the same period in 2018. Looking only at June 2019 departures to the Dominican Republic, refunds increased 77% when compared to June 2018.

Refunds for air ticket purchases to the Dominican Republic made outside the U.S. from June 1-23, 2019, increased 8% when compared to the same period in 2018, ARC said.

Cancellations for U.S. travelers planned to the Dominican Republic from June 1-19, for travel at any future date, jumped by 51.2%, according to ForwardKeys, which claims to analyze more than 17 million flight bookings a day.

ARC’s results were based on 35 million roundtrip airline tickets (in all classes) purchased globally from Jan. 1-June 23, 2019, for travel to Mexico and the Caribbean, from 12,053 U.S. retail and corporate travel agency locations, including online travel agencies.

U.S. travelers choosing other Caribbean destinations
The Dominican Republic’s loss is the gain of other Caribbean islands. Air ticket purchases for travel to the Caribbean (excluding the Dominican Republic) and Mexico made in the U.S. from June 1-23, 2019 increased 3% when compared to the same period in 2018, according to ARC.

Ticket purchases for destinations with the most significant increase included Saint Martin (158%), Saint Barthélemy (117%), Saint Vincent (70%), Saint Lucia (33%) and the Bahamas (32%).

ForwardKeys reported advance bookings to Aruba were up 31.3%. Additionally, they are up 44.5% to the Bahamas and up 26% to Jamaica.

U.S. Senator calls for more American investigatory involvement
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in a statement said he was demanding more federal help and expertise to assist the Dominican Republic’s investigation of the deaths, beyond the current engagement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “to follow more clues and gather faster answers into a possible cause or causes.”

Schumer formally requested the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which has a Caribbean office, investigate the theory that tainted alcohol may be present. “Schumer also wants the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to send more of their experts down as part of his push to expedite the overall investigation into these mysterious illnesses and deaths,” his office said in a statement. 

Recently, speculation has directed attention to tainted alcohol, and possibly even pool water.

“Given that we still have a whole lot of questions and very few answers into just what, if anything, is the cause for the recent spate of sicknesses and several deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic, the feds should double their efforts on helping get to the bottom of things,” Schumer said.

Three of the victims were New Yorkers: Donette Edge Cannon of Queens, Leyla Cox of Staten Island, and Vittorio Caruso of Glen Cove.

“There has been little to no clarity surrounding these incidents, mainly because toxicology reports have yet to be released,” Schumer’s office said.

“Simply put, the sooner we get to the bottom of what is happening, the sooner we can be part of an appropriate response, but the first priority is for the feds to help get all the answers in hand, a timely and thorough investigation. And that is where the feds can help better expedite this process for everyone,” Schumer added.

The ATF has two offices in the Caribbean, one in Jamaica and another in the Bahamas, and can provide technical assistance, intelligence sharing, and forensic expertise to both the FBI and the Dominican Republic government “to help pinpoint what, if anything, is awry, and communicate with the larger international community,” Schumer’s office said in the statement.

Both the State Department and the Dominican Republic Tourism Ministry note that U.S. traveler deaths are actually down this year off previous years, and that they are well within a normal range given that between 2.5 million-2.7 million Americans visit the island every year.

The State Department’s travel advisory for the Dominican Republic remains at Level 2, making it comparable to other popular American tourist destinations, including England, France, Germany and Spain.

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