A string of high profile deaths, illnesses and a claim of assault in the Dominican Republic has cast a shadow of concern over a country whose economy is largely driven by tourism.
But despite the tragic headlines, hotel officials and safety experts are cautioning travelers not to rush to conclusions. The connections, they say, are not immediately apparent and safety experts in particular are warning that the country is no more dangerous than it was before.
“It’s not an overly dangerous place,” former CIA agent and current Regional Security Director of International SOS Matthew Bradley tells TIME. “I would still consider the Dominican Republic a safe place to go.”
About 6.5 million tourists visited the island in 2018, making it the top destination in the Caribbean, according to the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange. But for those millions of travelers with trips booked, police and resort officials are asking the public to wait for conclusions from investigations before making assumptions — and denying there is anything nefarious at play.
High-profile incidents involving American tourists
Since the beginning of 2019, there have been multiple high-profile cases involving American tourists dying or being seriously injured while staying in the Dominican Republic.
Miranda Schaup-Werner of Pennsylvania died on May 25 after she was found unresponsive by hotel staff in her Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville resort hotel room. According to the hotel, which is located in San Pedro de Macoris, The National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the National Police Investigations Unit concluded the 41-year-old had suffered a heart attack. In a statement, Bahia Principe says that her husband, who she was traveling with, confirmed she had a history of heart conditions.
Five days later, on May 30, Maryland couple Cynthia Ann Day, 49 and Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63 were both found unresponsive in their rooms by hotel staff the day they were scheduled to check out. Bahia Principe confirmed the couple was staying at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, which is less than a mile away from sister resort Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville where Schaup-Wener stayed. According to Bahia Principe, there were no signs of violence and the case of Holmes and Day is still under investigation and awaiting results of toxicology test.
“To date, there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents,” the hotel’s statement read. “We disapprove of any speculation and conjecture on the possible causes of death and urge all to respect the families while the investigation is ongoing.”
In response to the information that has been circulating in different media outlets
regarding the two unfortunate events in the Dominican Republic, Bahia Principe
Hotels & Resorts would like to clarify the following: pic.twitter.com/Pg8QFmaq1L
— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) June 5, 2019
On Friday, a Colorado couple told CNN they are suing the resort the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort, where Day and Holmes stayed, after falling ill last June. Kaylynn Knull, 29, and her boyfriend Tom Schwander, 33, said they were forced to cut their trip short because they fell seriously ill during their stay at the resort. When the couple returned home, still feeling sick, a doctor told the couple they were likely exposed to organophosphates, a chemical typically found in pesticide.
“There’s something going on,” Knull told CNN. “What happened to us may be related to what happened to them.”
Hours after the story, Bahia Principe reiterated that they were cooperating with authorities and their investigation in a statement.
In regards to the information that has been spread by various media outlets and social media, we would like to express: https://t.co/fT2Qj8jR7K
En respuesta a las informaciones que están siendo publicadas por diversos medios de comunicación y redes sociales, manifestamos: pic.twitter.com/BjjJd9mJdd
— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) June 7, 2019
On May 29, Delaware resident Tammy Lawrence-Daley shared a lengthy post on Facebook where she described being assaulted at Majestic Elegance Resort in Punta Cana in January. She alleged in her post that a man dressed in a resort uniform viciously attacked her for hours. Majestic Resorts said in a statement that authorities are still unclear on what has happened and investigations have revealed “weak points” in Daley’s “strange and unusual” case. The hotel also claims that Daley only took her story publicly after a $2.2 million settlement was denied.
“Some media in the United States have reported on this story considering that this story is true and definitive, instead of waiting for a final resolution of the case that not only affects Majestic Resorts, but also tourism for the entire Dominican Republic.” the statement said.
“Majestic states that it continues to cooperate with the authorities in the resolution of this case until they can provide an official final declaration.” the resort added. Daley has yet to publicly respond to the resorts claims.
In April, the bodies of New York City couple Orlando Moore, 40, and Portia Ravenelle, 52, were found after being reported missing for weeks. Dominican authorities confirmed that the couple died in a car accident in Santo Domingo.
How safe is the Dominican Republic?
The U.S. State Department issued a level two (out of four) safety warning for the Dominican Republic in April 2019. The warning advises travelers exercise increased caution due to violent crime in the country, which include armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault. The State Department says that resort areas tend to be better policed and safer that urban areas for travelers.
Bradley says he would advise anyone worried about traveling to the Dominican Republic to take the same precautions they would when going anywhere else.
“These incidents, while recent, in my mind don’t indicate Dominican Republic is any less safe than it was before,” Bradley, the Regional Security Director of International SOS, says. “I would tell people to continue with trips.”
Considering the level two safety ranking from the State Department, Bradley advises travelers not to go anywhere alone, especially at night. And if you do wander on your own, Bradley says, let a companion know when you plan on returning so they can be aware something is amiss if you do not return. “Travel has risk,” Bradley says. “People should be aware before they travel where they are going and plan accordingly, if they do, they usually travel safely.”
Considering the three deaths of three were due to medical causes, Dr. Robert Quigley, Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director of International SOS says travelers should take extra precaution with their health when away from home.
He advises travelers to visit a doctor prior to embarking on their trip, especially if they might have a chronic medical condition or cardiovascular disease. Quigley says sleep deprivation and stress can “exacerbate underlying, and sometimes asymptomatic, serious cardiovascular diseases.”
He also advised travelers to pack extra medication in case their trip is delayed.
Will tourism in the Dominican Republic be affected?
As the stories continue to emerge, some travelers have taken to social media to voice concerns about traveling to the Caribbean country. While officials at the Dominican Ministry of Tourism told TIME they were not able to elaborate on the situation because of the ongoing investigation, on Thursday, Francisco Javier García, the Minister of Tourism for Dominican Republic said that the investigations are not affecting the number of tourist visiting the country.
“These cases are very regrettable, but isolated.” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “Investigation into them is a top priority for us and for the National Police. We are asking them to deploy all resources to help provide answers as quickly as possible.”
He called the Dominican Republic a “tranquil, peaceful destination and the safest in the region,” and said tourists can “be assured that the authorities are working hard to clarify these incidents.”
Despite the reassurance, some travelers are saying the incidents have cast doubt on the safety of the country and are refusing to take a chance.
Majestic Elegance Resort: Carr. El Macao – Arena Gorda, Punta Cana 23000, Dominican Republic
Bahia Principe Hotel in La Romana: Carretera San Pedro Km 12, La Romana 32000, Dominican, 2 HIGH crimes in less than 5 days reported @ HOTELS in DR! I’m canceling my plan trip to DR🇩🇴!😲 pic.twitter.com/L9eKD8dv6V
— Maria Gomez (@DoraGom43725330) June 2, 2019
Also, if you’re traveling to Dominican Republic, cancel your trip. So many deaths are happening to visitors. A NY couple went missing, they found them dead, another couple from Maryland just got found in their rooms dead and another woman was beaten nearly to death there too.
— Beautifully Made. (@briccianaxo) June 2, 2019