Travel advisors contacted this week by TravelPulse confirmed a segment of their clients are opting for other Caribbean vacation destinations in lieu of visiting the Dominican Republic. The reports follow news that bookings for Bahamas, Jamaica and Aruba increased significantly between June 1 and 19, as coverage of recent visitor deaths spiked.
During the June period, Dominican Republic flight cancellations were up 45 percent year-over-year while Dominican Republic bookings declined by 74.3 percent, according to travel research firm Forward Keys.
“I do have a client who was initially looking at anything in the Caribbean and opted to go to Jamaica instead of the Dominican Republic,” said Silver Spring, MD-based travel agent Katherine Brooks. “Some say [Dominican Republic travel] doesn’t bother them, [while] others say they’re avoiding that country like a plague,” she added.
“I have clients that are scared by all of the hype,” said Bella Vista, AR-based travel agent Steve Rosenthal. “One, in particular, decided to change to Costa Rica.”
“[Clients] are concerned,” said Diane McClelland, a Hamilton, Canada- based agent. “I had one family of five wanting to cancel their all-inclusive [resort stay] for end of July but could not afford to the supplier cancellation penalty at this point. They decided to go but said they ‘hope we come back safe.’”
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“I have a group of 10 going in November and they just requested to change their destination,” said Agusta, Ga.-based agent Edkesha Anderson. “Nothing I’ve told has made them feel comfortable about continuing their trip even though their resort has no connection to any of the events.”
Online travel retailers have also reported shifts from the Dominican Republic to other destinations. “For our travelers that have decided to change their vacation plans, we are seeing an uptick into Jamaica, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and other smaller Caribbean islands,” said Bud Finlaw, CEO of BookIt.com, in a CNBC report.
Still, Rosenthal said vacationers his firm recently booked on Dominican vacations have reported no problems. “I saw a post by one of our other owners that her clients returned from the DR last week. They had a great time and loved it!”
Other recent Dominican Republic travelers reported similar experiences. Theresa Hardin of Edison, N.J., who returned last week from the CHIC Punta Cana resort, said “I felt more safe at that resort than I’ve been feeling lately at home. There were absolutely zero instances or circumstances that I felt were dangerous or threatening.”
However, Hardin said the media reports’ impact on some guests were clear. “I never feared drinking the alcohol or water [but] you can tell some people were nervous,” she said. “Several of the people in our group purchased their own alcohol and refused to drink any liquor from the resort. No one drank liquor from mini-bar in [the] room. I didn’t but not because I didn’t feel safe. I (just) didn’t like what they offered.”
“This was the first time my husband and I have been to the Dominican Republic,” said Donna Balkovic of Manasquan, N.J., who stayed at the Sanctuary in Cap Cana resort from June 8 to June 15. “Despite the bad press of recent events, we had a fabulous time.”
Ironically as Rosenthal points out, “It seems that every year there is a scare about a different destination in the area. Last year it was Mexico is dangerous, before that, it was Jamaica.”
Yet with results from an FBI-assisted Dominican government investigation of the deaths not yet available, the country may continue to experience the impact of negative consumer perceptions beyond the summer travel season.
“We have high certainty [the deaths] will negatively impact visitation to the DR,” said Patrick Scholes, managing director, lodging and leisure equity research at financial firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.