Dominican Republic tourism minister blasts media coverage of tourist deaths

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Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia disputed reports that characterized three deaths at Bahia Principe's resort complex in La Romana as "mysterious."
Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia disputed reports that characterized three deaths at Bahia Principe's resort complex in La Romana as "mysterious." Photo Credit: Eric Moya

NEW YORK -- The Dominican Republic's tourism minister decried a "bombardment" by the media in the wake of several tourist deaths this year in the Caribbean nation.

Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia, in New York for events coinciding with the 27th edition of Dominican Week in the U.S., was joined for a panel at the Four Seasons Hotel New York by Carlos Castillo, consul general of the Dominican Republic in New York; Robin Bernstein, U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic; Rafael Blanco of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants;  Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group; Jeffrey Livingston of investment firm KKR; and Bruce Wardinski, chairman and CEO of Playa Resorts. 

During the panel, which lasted just over an hour, Garcia discussed the case of a Delaware woman who says she was beaten unconscious at the Majestic Elegance Punta Cana in January, describing the injuries she received as "superficial" and disputing accounts that she lost consciousness during the attack.

"You have to ask yourselves: What happened in the D.R., is it true what they said happened or is it false?" he said through a translator.

He also disputed reports that characterized three deaths at Bahia Principe's resort complex in La Romana as "mysterious."  

"We have our [toxicology] results, and we are at ease," he said, adding that although the country is still awaiting the results of the FBI's investigation into the deaths, "I personally have no doubt that those results" will also find no evidence of alcohol poisoning or other wrongdoing.

"Believe me: If it were alcohol, people would be dropping like flies," Bernstein added later during the panel.

Garcia and other panelists urged members of the media in attendance to report accurately about the deaths and cited statistics illustrating the safety of the country. Blanco, Bernstein and others noted that the U.S. State Department travel advisory for the Dominican Republic is Level 2, the same as for Spain, France and other Western European destinations.

"Right now we are investing over $300 million in projects" in the Dominican Republic, Wardinski said, noting Playa's partnerships with Hilton and Hyatt, which include the Hilton La Romana and the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara in Punta Cana opening later this year. "Do you think Hilton and Hyatt and Playa would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a location that we didn't feel incredibly secure in?"

In July, Garcia had announced several security steps the country was taking in the wake of the aformentioned deaths and others at several Dominican Republic resorts. They included establishing an emergency tourist center with a multilingual staff, increasing hotel inspections and requiring hotels to review 911 and other emergency information with guests during check-in. Garcia offered no further details about these initiatives during Thursday's panel, nor did an accompanying press release for the event.

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