We have lived through wars, Mad Cow Disease, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, State Department warnings, hurricane ravaged destinations, and crime against Americans for years. But in my twenty plus years in the industry, I have never seen anything like what is happening in the Dominican Republic.
And in what may be an unpopular opinion, I am recommending that clients (and family) avoid the Dominican Republic until some answers can be provided.
For those who are unaware, seven Americans have died in Dominican Republic resorts since January. Generally, they appeared to be healthy individuals and able to travel without incident. All have passed away prior to ending their trip seemingly after suffering a pulmonary edema.
The deaths are not isolated to one resort—4 have died in Bahia Principe resorts, 2 have died in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and one at Dreams Punta Cana. And most recently, a group of Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffet fans) became very ill at the Riu Palace—47 of 114 of the group.
I realize that deaths happen everywhere. That’s why cruise ships have morgues on them. But rarely do you see a spate of unexplained deaths. None of the dead were suffering from any chronic illnesses. None were known to be doing stupid or risky things. None were exceptionally elderly. There were no illness outbreaks in the destination prior to death. Pretty much unexplained.
And authorities from the Dominican Republic seem to be downplaying it a bit. Tourism Minister Javier Garcia said “these are situations that can occur in any country, in any hotel in the world. It is regrettable but sometimes it happens.”
Technically, he is correct. But seven deaths in a period of six months, all Americans, all with similar causes of death, all in resorts is not something that happens all the time. That is like the famous Legionnaires Disease outbreak in Philadelphia—yes, people die, but not all at the same hotel from the same conference!
As it stands now, authorities from the US and the Dominican are investigating and the US has not issued any travel warnings to the island. Doctors who treated the sickened Parrotheads think a parasite may be to blame. And other authorities are looking into the possibility of tainted bootlegged liquor.
This seems plausible, perhaps possible. Tainted tequila was an issue for Mexican authorities when a Milwaukee woman drowned and her brother nearly drowned at an Iberostar resort in Playa del Carmen.
In that case, a federal case was opened and several distilleries were shut down.
But nothing similar has happened in the Dominican.
And keep in mind that the country is also reeling from the brutal attack of a woman in the Majestic Elegance Resort in Punta Cana, and the attempted assassination of David (Big Papi) Ortiz in Santo Domingo earlier this month.
Until there is some resolution, I cannot, in good conscious, recommend the destination to clients. The simple fact is that seven Americans have died in less than 6 months in a small Caribbean island known for tourism and there is no answer. And to me, and my clients, that is an unacceptable risk!
What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment!