John Van den Heuvel, president of Gogo Worldwide Vacations,
said companies like Gogo, its Flight Centre Travel Group parent and the travel
industry at large have a responsibility to help destinations when they fall on
That includes the Dominican Republic, where tourism took a
hit after the consumer press scrutinized a series of tourist deaths in the country
this summer, labeling them "mysterious" and prompting many U.S.
travelers to cancel or change bookings.
For Gogo, Van den Heuvel estimated that year-over-year
bookings dropped 50%, with the biggest hits coming in June, July and August.
On the Record
Gogo Worldwide Vacations president John Van den Heuvel spoke about Dominican Republic bookings and what looks like the beginnings of a recovery. Read More
"As the president of Gogo Vacations, I want to support
not only our partners but more importantly the destination of the Dominican
Republic and the people of the Dominican Republic, who give so much passion to
tourism and to their country," Van den Heuvel said. "I also want to
help reassure the American traveler that the Dominican Republic is still that
tropical paradise that we know it to be and an oasis, really, which tourists
from all over the globe can and should enjoy."
That is part of the reason that Flight Centre recently
hosted 60 travel advisors from Gogo and its agency brand, Liberty Travel, on an
educational trip to the Dominican Republic. The trip included visits to
multiple hotels, attractions and shopping venues as well as a panel with
government officials and presentations by hoteliers. The advisors were
encouraged to share their experiences on social media.
Christina Pedroni, vice president of Liberty Travel, said
most of the agents on the trip had been to the Dominican Republic before, but
the trip "reminded them of both the natural beauty and the warmth of the
people in the destination."
"I think it was the people of the Dominican Republic
who motivated them the most," she added.
The trip has reportedly proven effective already. One agent
subsequently booked three rooms in Punta Cana for the holidays.
Pedroni said bookings are starting to rise, especially among
clients who have been to the Dominican Republic before, but others are still
She said, "I believe that the agency community plays a
very important part in this, and the more we can share the message of this
great destination, the more the customer will come back."