Dominican Republic, rocked by high-profile deaths, works to assure tourists it's safe

Dominican Republic, rocked by high-profile deaths, works to assure tourists it's safe
Image via Presidency of the Dominican Republic office
With at least eight deaths of American tourists this year alone, the Dominican Republic is scrambling to save what is left of its tourism industry. The most recent death took place last week after a noticeably ill father from Denver was booted from a flight last Sunday as he tried to leave the country. After days at the hospital suffering from a mysterious illness that reportedly caused his leg to swell, his kidneys to fail, and made breathing difficult, he passed away last Thursday. In an interview with a Denver news site, his family told of him screaming in pain, unable to talk or stand up. This is just the latest in a list of highly publicized deaths of Americans visiting the country.

The spate of mysterious deaths has now caused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York to call on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and more CDC experts to lend support to the FBI in investigating the deaths of the American tourists.

Fear has hit the Dominican Republic, where 47% of tourists are Americans and tourism accounts for 22% of the nation’s economy.

According to travel research firm ForwardKeys, June flight bookings to the Dominican Republic dropped 74.3% year over year, and cancellations have skyrocketed. Three deaths in late May caused cancellations to slowly increase but, according to ForwardKeys, after Leyla Cox’s death on June 10 cancellations shot up, exceeding more than 70% by June 11. As more Americans look to cancel their flights, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are waiving change fees for trips to the Caribbean nation.

At least one hotel is implementing new safety protocols in response to the deaths. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, where one of the deaths happened, has hired an American-based testing lab to inspect all food and beverage products and all public spaces across the 1,790-suite resort. In-room liquor at the all-inclusive resort has been removed. All but two of the resorts' alcoholic beverages are currently sourced from the U.S., but the new inspections come as some have speculated that the deaths across the nation may be linked to tainted alcohol or misused pesticides.

Dominican Republic officials maintain that the deaths are not linked, blaming the hysteria now gripping the tourism industry on American media outlets. The nation's tourism board, who have stated the tourists died of natural causes, have also launched a social media campaigns, #BeFairWithDR and #SafeinDR, trying to offset the negative media attention. The President and other officials in the nation have been tweeting out videos reassuring tourists that the nation is safe to visit.

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