The FBI is now investigating a recent string of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic after several U.S. travellers passed away while vacationing at resorts in the destination.
But are there valid safety concerns for travellers or should Canadians keep their travel plans for this winter?
This week, the United States Embassy in Santo Domingo confirmed that that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is involved in the investigation, conducting a deeper toxicology analysis on three U.S. travellers who died in late May while on holiday in the Dominican Republic.
They include Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, who died shortly after checking into Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville (at least one report stated that she had become ill after having a drink from the room’s minibar); as well as Nathaniel Edward Holmes and Cynthia Ann Day, who were found dead in their room at the nearby Gran Bahia Principe La Romana, just prior to check-out.
While local authorities stated that Schaup-Werner died of a heart attack, a cause of death for Holmes and Day has not been officially stated.
According to the FBI, final results from the enhanced toxicology report could take up to 30 days.
The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism said that its working with the National Police Department, National Hotel Association (ASONAHORES) and FBI, “following the due process and working diligently to complete the investigations and to keep the public informed as new findings arise.”
The ministry is also working with ASONAHORES (the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants) to “reinforce safety conditions and quality control in food, beverages and any other element that has a positive impact on the satisfaction of those who visit our county as tourists.”
The DR responds
In a statement provided to PAX, the DR’s Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia said that “all visitors are very important to us. The Ministry’s most important responsibilities are to ensure that the highest industry standards are met so that all tourists are safe when visiting. At the same time, it must also work to provide a definitive answer to the afflicted families.”
He added: “It is important for everyone who wishes to disseminate information about the situation to do it in context and with perspective. It is advisable to wait for the official reports before speculating on the causes of death.
“We are confident that we can provide a definitive answer as soon as possible. You can also be sure that the necessary measures will be taken to make the country even safer for all visitors.”
Bahia Principe has also released a statement on the incidents. In part, the statement reads:
“We reiterate our firm commitment to cooperate fully with the authorities and we expect a quick resolution of your consultations and actions, and we will not make any other statements that could interfere with them.
“As a result of the erroneous information that has been published, with which we do not agree, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts has suffered great damage to its image and reputation. Serious insults and threats have been imposed on some of our more than 15,000 employees and their families, who are the backbone of our company and for whom we can not remain on the sidelines.
“For 24 years, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts has operated in the Dominican Republic, which is one of the most internationally recognized destinations, and receives 7 million tourists from around the world annually. In the Dominican Republic, we have 14 hotels and more than 7,100 rooms ... We welcome approximately 700,000 people each year.
“We reiterate that we totally disagree with the dissemination of false information published publicly that endangers the image and reputation of the company and the integrity and rights of our employees and their families, reserving, when necessary, the right to undertake the adequate legal action.”
According to the tourism ministry, nearly 30 million tourists have visited the Dominican Republic in the last five years.
In 2018, the destination welcomed more than 6.5 million passengers via air travel - a 6.2 per cent increase of more than 380,000 additional arrivals compared to 2017. Of those visitors, 904,460 Canadians travelled to the country in 2018, an increase of 67,356 from 2017.
According to a poll carried out in 2018 by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, “94 per cent of the tourists from Canada said they would return to our country and 97 per cent evaluated our tourism services as excellent.” By comparison, U.S. travellers responded 99 per cent and 94 per cent respectively to the same statements.
And while the Government of Canada currently advises travellers to the Dominican Republic to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to a high crime rate, it should be noted that the same level of caution is advised for many other popular travel destinations, including France, the U.K. and the Bahamas.
So should travellers – and the travel industry – be concerned?
Earlier this week, Cosette Garcia, director of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism’s Montreal office, told PAX that "at the moment, we have not received many questions from the public. However, we try to keep our operators and agents informed at all times, in case they receive questions from travel agents, so that they can respond to their customers.
"These unfortunate episodes are completely isolated,” she continued. “These are all different cases, in different circumstances and places. All are individual cases with specific situations.
“In any case, I believe they do not affect the country's tourism activity, which continues to receive visitors from around the world, nor its image as a peaceful destination, the safest in the region. The Dominican Republic will remain the favourite destination of Americans, who were 2.7 million to visit last year, and a favourite of Canadians, who sent more than 900,000 visitors last year.”
With files from Serge Abel-Normandin