Tourist deaths taking toll on Dominican Republic bookings

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Photo Credit: Preto Parola/Shutterstock

Travel advisors have been fielding calls from clients concerned about the recent tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, and advisors are rebooking some of those clients to other destinations.

According to the State Department, there have been four recent mysterious deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic, but several media reports say six have died mysteriously. The FBI is working with Dominican authorities on an investigation.

"We have been getting lots of calls," said Margie Hand, an affiliate of Andavo Travel based in Birmingham, Ala. "So far I believe about half of our Punta Cana bookings have rebooked to go elsewhere."

That includes a 100-person wedding that opted to move the event to Jamaica.

Hand said most clients are more concerned about the tourist deaths than the shooting involving former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, because the shooting doesn't appear to be random. Many of her clients have said they plan to take safety precautions, like not going out alone. 

Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa., said she is fielding a number of questions from clients seeking opinions. A couple scheduled to stay at one of the Bahia Principe hotels where a tourist died switched to a different hotel in the destination.

In a recent email to a client with a December wedding booked at a the Hard Rock Punta Cana, where an American tourist mysteriously died in April, she encouraged the client to read reports and research what was happening in the Dominican Republic. She said the media tends to highlight tragic events, and pointed out that the U.S. Department of State hasn't issued any new warnings about the Dominican Republic since April, placing it as the same level as many European destinations and other spots in the Caribbean.

"We will not discourage anyone from modifying or canceling current travel plans due to concerns over the recent reports," she wrote.

Doncsecz believes the negative news will continue to circulate among consumers.

"I know many agents have posted on Facebook groups that their clients have been bombarding them with questions and concerns, so I do think this [will] have a similar impact as the 'tainted alcohol' did in Mexico," she said. 

Vacation packager Pleasant Holidays reports a few Dominican Republic cancellations and "fewer than a dozen changes to vacations booked to the Dominican Republic."

"Pleasant Holidays continues to monitor the situation and is waiving its change fees for travelers who wish to move their reservations from the Dominican Republic to another destination," said Jeffrey Lee, Pleasant Holidays' Caribbean product director.

Lee added that Pleasant Holidays' Caribbean business continues to thrive in 2019, with sales and passengers up double digits compared to 2018.

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