Recent media coverage of “mysterious” tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic has led many Americans to second guess or even cancel their travel plans to the Caribbean nation and has sent the country’s tourism industry reeling.
However, lost amid the hype is the fact that Americans are more likely to be killed in a homicide in the U.S. than die of unnatural causes in the Dominican Republic, according to U.S. State Department statistics reported by CNN.
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While the Caribbean hotspot saw a sizable 7.9 percent increase in U.S. visitors between 2017 and 2018 the number of Americans who died of unnatural causes in the Dominican Republic dropped from 17 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.
Last year, the odds of an American tourist dying unnaturally in the Dominican Republic was just 0.58 per 100,000. Citing Pew Research Center figures taking into account data from the FBI, CNN reported the rate of murders, homicides and non-negligent manslaughter in the U.S. was 5.3 per 100,000 as recently as 2017. That figure jumps significantly in places like Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis.
“We have unequivocally shown that there is not an avalanche of deaths of American tourists in the country and it is not true that there are mysterious deaths,” Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism, Francisco Javier Garcia said during a recent press conference with national and international media.
“Our priority in the Dominican Republic is the safety of tourists, and increasingly, measures are applied to guarantee it,” he added, noting that the U.S. State Department has called the recent coverage of deceased tourists exaggerated.
The Dominican Republic remains at a Level 2 (exercise increased caution) on the State Department’s travel advisory, putting it on par with many popular international destinations that most Americans wouldn’t think twice about visiting, including the Bahamas, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Spain, Turks and Caicos and the United Kingdom.
Both the Bahamas and Jamaica actually have higher rates of unnatural American deaths compared to the Dominican Republic, according to State Department data.
What’s more, the Level 2 advisory for the Dominican Republic is due to the threat of crime and is unrelated to the recent reports involving tourist deaths. The State Department hasn’t updated its advisory since April 15.
Nonetheless, data from ForwardKeys shows that cancellations for summer flights from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic are way up while summer bookings are down dramatically. Delta Air Lines even cited “recent events in Punta Cana” in issuing a travel advisory allowing passengers to reschedule or cancel their flights without incurring additional fees.
“When you look at the map of the island and see that these things happened all around, to conflate that they all are connected is a bit of a stretch, to be frank. So that should give you some comfort,” TravelPulse founder and CEO Mark Murphy told Fox Business earlier this month. “If 8 million Americans have traveled to the Dominican Republic in the last four years alone, I’d feel pretty confident.”
If the numbers along with the State Department, FBI and CDC’s lack of immediate response and warning to travelers isn’t enough to reassure you that the Dominican Republic remains a safe destination, consider talking to a travel agent.
“Talk to a travel agent who sells this destination regularly and gets personal feedback and back it up with TripAdvisor if you want to validate some of the reviews,” added Murphy.