Since I sounded the alarm (well my personal alarm) last week about travel to the Dominican Republic, I felt it only fair to follow up and offer some tips on how to deal with your clients who may be concerned. For those that are following along, the count of American tourists to have died in the Dominican Republic this year just increased to 11.
Now their Minister of Tourism is on a crisis response tour assuring the public that the DR is still a safe, friendly, and welcoming destination. That is his job. He cites that statistics from prior years . From 2012 to 2018, 128 Americans have died of causes other than “natural death” according to the US State Department. That works out to about18 per year. Factor in the 2 million tourists form the US in a year and 11 seems about right. But, we are not even halfway through the year, and most of the deaths this year have been similar. If some were killed parasailing and others in a car accident or even an attack, it might make it less newsworthy. But for now the facts are that 11 people have died and they are investigating why. There is no answer yet, but the Minister of Tourism suggested we may know something later today after reports from the alcohol come back. Interestingly, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has just pulled all liquor dispensers from their minibars.
Understandably, clients are anxious. Do you tell them to cancel? Do you tell them to forge on? Unfortunately there is no right answer and to determine the right answer for your client, you are going to need to have a heart-to-heart conversation. First off, understand that no one can guarantee anyone’s safety no matter if it is in the back yard or in a war zone. The decision to travel needs to be made on the client’s level of acceptance of risk.
The first order of business is travel insurance. I have never understood the reluctance of agents to insist on insurance. For a small premium, it will protect your investment; but more importantly it will protect your health. There are very few nations in the Caribbean where I would feel comfortable being treated for a major illness. I like the security knowing that my insurance will get me to a world-class facility to handle any emergency. This should be the primary focus of your insurance discussion.
Your second order of business is to discuss behavior. It is human nature to let your guard down while on vacation. Why? Because you’re on vacation! But there are bad guys out there that know it. Generally, hotel and resort employees have a lot to lose; but other guests and visitors—not so much. It is pretty easy to drug a drink. Discuss safety in cities—areas to avoid, times to avoid. Public transportation safety is another concern, and of course general health concerns such as shellfish, untreated water, and the dreaded buffets with mayonnaise.
You certainly do not want to put the fear of traveling in their mind, but you do need to do your job as a consultant and make them aware. Much of this can be covered in a lighthearted conversation. “I am sure you probably know all this, but…when you are in London, look right before crossing the street. And at a resort, it is no different than at your local bar—never leave your drink unattended.” It is fairly easy to get your point across without instilling fear. It might make sense to create a document for your clients “ABC Travel’s 10 Safety Tips for International Travel.”
Specific to the Dominican Republic, until there are some answers, I’d suggest sticking with sealed cans (beer, soda) as much as possible and be very conscious of any oncoming illness. What might seem like a case of indigestion or stomach bug, might be far worse. Or not. But it never hurts to play it safe.
And keep in mind, on the off chance that there is a serious injury or death…travel insurance insurance or not…you are likely to be involved in case of a lawsuit. Make sure your own errors and omissions policy is up to date. And speaking of insurance, carriers do not necessarily follow CDC or State Department warnings; make sure that your client is covered for their destination and you are covered for sending your client to that destination.
As I said last week, the numbers are not as alarming as the similarities and the frequencies. Hopefully this week will provide an answer or perhaps a clue. There are nearly 50,000 Americans visiting the Dominican Republic this week and the super-majority are going to have a fantastic trip and come home with memories to last a lifetime.
With the DR being a top and affordable destination, let’s hope that an explanation and resolution are at hand!