Debunking Perceived Dangers in the Dominican Republic

The Minister of Tourism of the Dominican Republic Francisco Javier García, center, speaks to the press regarding concerns over the recent deaths of tourists on Dominican soil, at the Ministry of Tourism office in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Friday, June 21, 2019. According to García the deaths of eight American tourists in the Dominican Republic this year are not part of a mysterious cluster but rather a medically and statistically normal phenomenon that has been irresponsibly lumped together by the U.S. media. (AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)

The Dominican Republic is a popular travel destination known for all-inclusive resorts along strips of sandy beaches.

But lately, the fantasy of escaping the daily grind to soak up sun beams while dipping in Caribbean waters has been tainted by news reports of at least 10 American tourists dying after vacationing there this past year. Many of them died while staying at all-inclusive resorts.

Some of those unfortunate deaths were African American tourists, including the engaged couple Cynthia Day, 50, and Nathaniel Holmes, 63, of Maryland. The vacationers were found dead in their Bahia Principe hotel room at the Playa Nueva Romana resort on May 30, NBC Washington reported.

Another was Joseph Allen, 55, of New Jersey, who was found dead in his room at the Terra Linda Resort in Sosua on June 13, NBC News reported.

As each of these mysterious stories goes viral on social media, many are asking whether it’s safe to travel to Dominican Republic. Here’s what we know so far:

Are the deaths of these tourists linked?

Officials have not confirmed that all of these deaths are linked. Most of the incidents were reported at different locations on the island. But there are two resorts that are connected to multiple deaths. At Bahia Principe resorts in La Romana, three tourists reportedly died. Five days before Day and Holmes were found dead at Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvania, died at the Bahia Principe Bouganville, also in La Romana, on May 25, Fox reports. In a statement Bahia Principe said, “there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents.”

There were also two separate incidents at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort in Punta Cana. Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California died there on April 13, FOX News reported. David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, died at a hospital while staying at the same resort last July, according to Business Insider. A total of 45 tourists have reportedly fallen ill while staying at the hotel in June. “Although the official reports state these incidents are unrelated, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana has taken steps, based on guest feedback, to improve the experience and enhance safety moving forward,” the hotel rep announced in a June statement. The Hard Rock Hotel is reportedly removing alcohol dispensers from guestrooms and testing food and alcohol for safety. 

What have been the reported cause of deaths?

Several tourists consumed alcohol in the hotel before becoming ill. At least four people reportedly died of a heart attack. Other reported causes of death included respiratory failure and pulmonary edema.

What is the American government doing about this?

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called for the Center for Disease Control and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive to further investigate the deaths in the Dominican Republic. The FBI is already investigating the minibar at the Bahia Principe resorts to uncover whether alcohol consumption was a possible link to deaths there. As of April 2019, the U.S. Department of State lists Dominican Republic at travel advisory level two, which is “exercise increased caution” due to “crime.” However there is no mention of the recent events in the advisory.

Has there really been an uptick of travelers dying?

No. Deaths of American tourists have reportedly decreased by 56 percent in the past three years, according to the Dominican Republic Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia.

“To say that an exaggerated number of Americans have died in the Dominican Republic, what some media have characterized as an avalanche of deaths, does not correspond with the reality that we are seeing today in the Dominican Republic,” said Garcia, according to the Associated Press.

Where does the Dominican Republic fall on the list of dangerous countries around the world?

Currently the Dominican Republic is one of the safest countries to visit, according to the U.S. Department of State advisories. Most countries in the world are listed at level one, “exercise normal precautions” and level two “excercise increased caution.” Travelers can sign up for the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and receive updated alerts about the country directly to their email in case that changes.

Are Americans traveling there less because of the deaths?

Data from Forward Keys, a company that analyzes daily flight bookings suggests it. Between June 1 and June 19, there was a 74.3% decrease in bookings for July and August flights to Dominican Republic, compared to the same time period last year.