A few days before 45-year-old South Carolinian, Kimberly Terre, her best friend and her two elderly parents were set to take off to the Majestic Mirage Punta Cana hotel in the Dominican Republic, news outlets across the country were reporting mysterious deaths in the destination.
When Terre’s 82-year-old mother and father wanted to cancel, she called her travel agent, Vicki Briggs, owner and adviser of Briggs World Travel in Virginia, to see how she should handle the dilemma.
“She just said that she knows everything is good, but her parents are getting concerned and what do I think, and what I should say to them,” said Briggs. “I told her I just left the resort they are staying at and it’s safe. It’s been safe in the past and it was safe two weeks ago when I was there.”
And that was all it took.
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Once Terre relayed the message and convinced her parents the destination and the resort were safe, they continued on with their planned vacation to Punta Cana.
But not everyone is convinced the destination is safe, as a new report said ticket sales have dropped to the Dominican Republic while refunds have increased.
And that’s the difference between people who are getting their information from sensationalized news outlets and those who are getting their information from travel professionals, especially the ones who just returned from the destination like Briggs and Terre.
“We never felt unsafe at the resort,” said Terre. “We ate at all of the restaurants and never got sick. My parents even have some food issues and they were fine.”
And Terre said she is happy she trusted her travel advisor over the news her and her friend were hearing in the days leading up to their trip.
“We would read the news and it just seemed sensationalized,” said Terre. “It just seemed like they were talking about a couple of different, unrelated issues and turning it into one, really big thing. And then it just seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork and saying they were there a year ago and got sick.”
But Briggs told TravelPulse she completely understood Terre’s parents’ concerns and also noted that all travelers should be concerned when they hear alarming news about a destination they are heading to, but they should get the facts from a travel consultant before panicking and canceling.
“I completely understood though,” said Briggs. “When you are 80 years old, you don’t want to put yourself in danger. But I explained that I wasn’t just at the resort before, I was there only a couple of weeks before their vacation. Saying it’s safe is one thing, but if you were just there, that’s another.”
And that’s why travel advisor Susan Collins-Peavy, owner of Susan Peavey Travel in Massachusetts, shouldn’t have a problem selling the destination since she was just there two weeks ago.
Collins-Peavy, who stayed at Casa de Campo, said it was important for her to visit the destination in order to get ahead of the panic.
“I talked to guests at the hotel and everyone was having an amazing time,” she told TravelPulse. “I ate and drank from the mini-bar and had no issues. The people in the D.R. were so welcoming. I really hope the media stops. They are really hurting the economy of this beautiful country.”
But the news is only damaging if there isn’t an agent there to separate truth from exaggeration.
Tom Varghese, owner of Travel Tom, told TravelPulse he recently had a destination wedding of 100 people at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. He said it was booked over a year ago, but negative Dominican Republic press started to surface just before the June 1 trip. Although no one in the party ever expressed concerns, he said other clients recently have.
And when someone expresses concern, he said he shows them statistics that show the millions of visitors who travel to the Dominican Republic every year compared to the low number of incidences.
“It is not my job to tell someone where to go, it is my job to show them the facts,” Varghese said. “I’m not going to put my neck and reputation on the line by sending someone to somewhere unsafe.”
Joshua Rodriguez, 37, of New York City, also did a little celebration travel in Punta Cana, recently celebrating his 37th birthday at the Grand Bahia Principe Punta Cana with his girlfriend. He said he was never concerned before, during or after his trip.
And it’s not a coincidence he too used a travel advisor.
“Our experience was great. It’s a beautiful island,” he told TravelPulse. “Just err on the side of caution. Just don’t do anything you don’t want to do, anything that doesn’t feel safe. Always have a cautious mind. I would certainly go back to Punta Cana and I would stay at the same resort again.”
And since pesticide poisoning is one theory being thrown out there by the media for the cause of death of a couple staying at the Bahia Principe resort around late May, we asked Rodriguez if he saw any unusual spraying at the hotel. After all, although Rodriguez wasn’t staying at the same exact hotel, he was staying at the same brand, Bahia Principe.
“I didn’t see tons of spraying or anything,” he said. “We definitely saw the grounds crew maintaining everything, and spraying bushes and flowers, but not on an everyday basis. I’ve been telling people I’m sure things do happen and I’m not sure what the reason is, but we recently went there and neither of us got sick.”
And travelers like Rodriguez and Terre, who continue to spread the word of Punta Cana’s safety, are the ones that will eventually help defuse a lot of the unwarranted panic, said Briggs.
“It makes my job easier having clients like [Terre]. Clients like that value an agent’s opinion,” she said. “At first, maybe some clients are scared off, but then they talk to a travel agent and realize a lot of it is hysteria.”