After news broke earlier this week that a tenth American tourist has died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic, Canadian travellers continue to have mixed feelings about travelling to the Caribbean country.
PAX contacted several tour operators to see how they are responding to recent incidents in the Dominican Republic.
All those who responded to us say that they continue to monitor the situation closely.
"We are closely monitoring the situation and are in constant contact with our destination representatives as well as hotel partners to ensure the comfort and well-being of our customers. We invite anyone who has questions or concerns to contact us directly," said Isabelle Arthur, media spokesperson, Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations.
"Not a real crisis"
The F.B.I. is still awaiting results on a string of toxicology reports from the deceased to determine what has caused the recent deaths, but based on the tour operators we contacted, none of them classify the incidents as a "real crisis".
"The situation for us right now is that the operations are going normally in the Dominican Republic. There is no change in our offer and our flights," said Debbie Cabana, media spokesperson, Transat.
For Club Med, it's the same story.
"The operations of our Club Med Punta Cana Village are functioning normally. Customers can go with confidence to this Village," said Carolyne Doyon, senior vice president, Canada and Mexico, Club Med.
Few calls, no sales decline
Despite all the hype, Transat ensures that it has received only a small number of calls from customers or concerned agents. "We're not really talking about a huge volume," insists Cabana, who says Transat manages to appease most fears, simply by exposing the facts and presenting its position.
For its part, Club Med points out that it has not observed any slowdown in sales for the Dominican Republic.
"On the contrary, we have seen a 15 per cent rise in travel to this destination over the last few weeks," Doyon said.
Nevertheless, Club Med Sandpiper Bay has recently experienced a surge in last-minute departures. Would last minute customers prefer the Florida Village because they are suspicious of the Dominican Village? If this is the case, it is unjustified, according to Doyon.
"Club Med Punta Cana enjoys an exceptional location, in the privileged safe area named Grupo Punta Cana. In addition, Club Med employs an expert company, Cristal, to certify its entire purchasing process. This very precise and numerous audit system gives us the best health and safety ratings. In addition to this, we have a surveillance system that ensures 24/7 security for all," Doyon explained.
Despite all of the efforts made by tour operators to reassure their customers, some customers will still want to postpone or cancel their stay, or change destinations, but unlike a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, cancellation policies and charges remain firmly intact.
"If they want to change their reservations for any of the other 70 Club Med Villages around the world, including Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S., they can by contacting their travel advisor who will have the modalities of change," Doyon said.
At Transat, however, feels that the current situation in the Dominican Republic does not justify the implementation of an extended policy allowing customers to modify their plans.
"If people ask us to be flexible, we analyze the situation on a case-by-case basis," Cabana said.
Among other considerations: the hotel where the stay is planned. In order for the change request to be taken into account, accommodation must be provided in one of the complexes associated with recent incidents in the media.
"In such cases, we could accept a change of hotel, but no cancellation or change of destination. However, guests will have to pay the price difference, if the new chosen hotel is more expensive," Cabana explained.
Air Canada has not put a goodwill policy in place, as it usually would for hurricanes or related disasters beyond the control of travellers.
Canadian government remains neutral
Naturally, the situation would be different if the Government of Canada ended up issuing a notice restricting travel to the Dominican Republic.
"It's important to emphasize this," Cabana said. "For any situation abroad, whether it's a natural disaster or a socio-political event, we are working with Global Affairs Canada. This determines the implementation of a flexibility policy or changes in our operations."
For its part, the Office of Consumer Protection recalls that since August 1, 2018, the FICAV can be used to refund or compensate a customer who could not benefit from a tourist service purchased from an agent because of the dissemination - after purchase - of an official warning to avoid any travel or to avoid any non-essential travel to a given destination.
In this case, the Canadian government has not issued any advice - and there is no indication yet that it will do so.
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