PUNTA CANA, D.R. -- Travel advisors are the first line of defense in combating negative perceptions of the
This was the message delivered to 35 U.S. agents on a recent
fam trip to Punta Cana sponsored by Travel Weekly and hosted by the Ministry of
"Tourism is the main income for our economy. You all know
what has happened here. People have lost jobs as result of the loss of visitors
and business. We need your support and help to bring your clients here for the
first time or on return trips," said Lucien Echavarria, New York-based director
of the Ministry of Tourism.
Earlier this year, media outlets reported on a cluster of
tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, saying that some tourists died after
drinking alcohol from the in-room minibar, fueling speculation that tainted
alcohol was the cause of death.
Some publications described the deaths as "mysterious,"
drawing the ire of Dominican Republic tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia.
The resulting furor scared many Americans from traveling to
the D.R., and visitor numbers plummeted.
However, an FBI investigation uncovered no connection between
the tourist deaths and no tainted alcohol, supporting the country's position
that the deaths were natural. But the damage was done.
Three hotel executives addressed not only the challenges
facing the D.R. but also the initiatives taken by hotels as well as the
government to ensure the safety and security of both new and returning
Frank Maduro, vice president of sales for AIC Hotel Group (the
sales and marketing company for the Hard Rock Punta Cana) told agents, "We must
become activists. We're all fighting the same uphill battle. Our repeat guests
and first-time visitors fear the unknown. They're not doing their research and
they believe all the news they see and hear. This is what we have to overcome."
John Long, vice president of sales and business development
for Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, said, "The damage has been done. It's not
that simple to fix, but we're moving on with great help and support from our
travel advisors who are our brand ambassadors."
The task facing both the private and public sectors is "to
rethink how we position the market and to put a better product and message in
front of the customer," Long said.
Kevin Froemming, Playa Hotels & Resorts' executive vice
president and chief commercial officer, spoke candidly about the situation.
"Demand took a downturn following the negative headlines in
the spring and summer. By the end of January we will have brought more than
3,000 travel agents down here to see the Playa product in the D.R. Consumers
need educated agents, and there is no better way to sell the product than to
have agents come down and see for themselves," Froemming said.
All three hotel executives said that current rates are
"We hope this doesn't last, but the pure value offers that
are in play now are opportunities that benefit consumers more than ever
before," Froemming said.
"Consumers are able to afford higher categories of accommodations
with the deals now available, and agents are seizing upon these opportunities,"
Long said. "This is a huge opportunity to bring new customers into the
All three hoteliers reported a gradual pickup in leisure
travel for the winter season, and many properties have robust bookings during
the upcoming holiday season.
"Our outlook for the winter is great at this point,
especially with the family market, although the top-end luxury market is
struggling," Long said. "The back end of 2020 will be much better, and we will
see this destination come back."