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Local travel agents see drop in business from Dominican Republic deaths

BRANDON KLEIN
Special to the Legal News

Published: July 11, 2019

Local travel agents continue to deal with the fallout from reported deaths of at least eight Americans in the Dominican Republic.

The wave of such fatalities, whether mysterious or statistically normal, have prompted some Ohio travelers to cancel their plans to visit the Caribbean nation, say local travel agents.

Tiffany Hughes, owner of Destination Travel Services, expressed frustration with how media coverage has framed the story.

"It's always something in the news," she said.

While an advisory is warranted and the deaths should be investigated, Hughes said, she also believes the press has jumped to conclusions, causing people to re-think their travel plans.

Ninety percent of Hughes' business involves the Caribbean and Mexican region.

The travel agency has experienced its share of ups and downs whenever similar stories about safety issues in the region become widespread, whether it's about Mexico, Jamaica or another country.

But Hughes said the business has taken a greater hit this year with the attention on the Dominican Republic's deaths than all the recent years when Mexico had negative headlines. The latest situation has cost her $5,000 in canceled bookings. Among them include two destination weddings this summer.

As of now, Hughes has no issue sending clients to visit the Dominican Republic.

"Personally, I would go tomorrow," she said. But she's more likely to recommend another destination to clients since there are many other options. She doesn't want to send clients to a country that they're afraid of visiting.

Autopsies show the tourists died of natural causes with three undergoing further toxicological analysis with help from the FBI, the Associated Press reported.

Hughes easily goes over the speculations about the deaths from pesticides to tainted alcohol. But with the deaths happening at different resorts, Hughes said there were a lot of holes in each scenario. Therefore, she's waiting for information about the toxicology reports.

Hughes was in the Dominican Republic when the first deaths were reported but did not have any issues during her visit, she said. She acknowledged that she didn't drink on the trip.

She was also in Las Vegas when a man opened fire on concertgoers, killing 50 people and wounding more than 400. But she thought the coverage never framed Las Vegas as an unsafe destination in the same vein. Travelers need to be vigilant no matter where they go, she said.

"You need to pay attention to your surroundings," she said. "We don't live in the same world 30 years ago."

Additionally, travelers need to be aware of the risks each country offers. The Dominican Republic is among the countries where you shouldn't drink the tap water, for example, Hughes said.

Fred Kerner, a tropical specialist at Grandview Travel, recommended travelers check the seal of alcohol from the mini-bar. He recommended tourists avoid the country's neighborhoods because some may not be as safe. That could be said for any community, including in central Ohio, and the best way to explore the country outside a resort is through tours, which are safe, he said.

The travel agent said they had clients return from the Dominican Republic without any issues. But he has one client looking to find another destination for a planned trip in October.

With the Dominican Republic receiving 6 million tourists, including more 2 million Americans, Kerner believes the number of deaths is not unusual.

"It's just happening a lot at one time," he said.

Kerner said he would expect there be more fatalities in a single resort that has hundreds of guests if there was an underlying cause such as tainted alcohol.

He believes the Dominican Republic is still a safe and viable destination. Like Hughes, Kerner said the situation is similar to other bad stories involving tourists in the region such, as the spew of tainted alcohol in Mexico a few years ago. But the story ultimately went away after a period of time.

In addition, travelers who were planning to visit the region but might have second thoughts could expect additional costs to re-book or cancel their trips. The biggest costs often include the airfare when changing a flight to a different destination, Kerner.

And some travel insurances do not cover the costs if a client decides not to go, he added. Such insurance often kicks in if the federal government decides to restrict or increase the severity of travel advisory levels.

On the other hand, Hughes said there are travel insurances that can cover for any reason up until the date of departure. She said clients could get the costs for their money back minus the travel insurance costs.

Hughes noted the many emails she now receives from resorts in the Dominican Republic providing a sales pitch and assurances of actions they are taking in response to the situation.

"It's heartbreaking watching some of these things coming in day after day," she said.

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