By Tom Brussow
President/CEO-Sunsational Beach Vacations & Romance Travel Designers
One of the top Caribbean beach spots that our clients have consistently enjoyed over the past ten years is Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
If you’ve been there, you can surely relate as there is much to love. Punta Cana offers affordable all-inclusive luxury resorts like Secrets Cap Cana, Iberostar Grand Bavaro, and the Hard Rock Punta Cana, amazing white powder sand beaches and turquoise blue water…all perfectly matching the picture of what paradise should look and feel like.
Punta Cana’s popularity seemingly had no limit with travelers arriving from all across the U.S in record numbers. I’ve been there at least ten times and we’ve easily booked thousands of travelers and more than 20 Destination Wedding groups so we know the lay of the land very well. I can barely recall more than a handful of times when anyone even expressed a minor complaint or a concern. And, to be clear, none were ever about safety related issues.
This abruptly and unexpectedly came to a halt in June of this year when news reports began to surface about so-called “mysterious deaths” of U.S. tourists. News outlets across the entire media spectrum intensely picked up on this for about a 2-3 week period. The stories and various theories spread like wildfire even though clear-cut evidence of any wrong doing or negligence by anyone associated with the Punta Cana resorts was never uncovered or proven.
But that, of course, didn’t stop the media from exploiting the story for their own purposes…they know quite well that fear sells…plain and simple. Or, more accurately, FEAR CLICKS! In the age of minute to minute cell phone newsfeed updates in the hands of pretty much every consumer, the media has become extremely adept at “monetizing misery”…with no actual, verified facts required.
John Tarkowski, President of Apple Vacations said it very well in a recent TravelPulse interview, “Unfortunately, the fact-based reporting that used to be a core tenet of the press seems to be increasingly rare these days. The shift to digital appears to have created an environment where success is determined by clicks and sensationalist headlines have become the dominant business model”.
So then, quite unfortunately, the fallout of essentially two weeks of intense reporting has had a lingering devastating effect on the Dominican Republic (DR) and the good, hard working people of the country. Previously, the DR welcomed more than 6 million annual visitors to their country with an astounding 99% saying they definitely want to go back. As you can imagine, this number is down considerably as fear and misinformation not only drives clicks, it resonates with consumers and shapes engrained attitudes that are very hard to break. We saw this same thing occur with Mexico not so long ago. Here, anecdotal reporting and fear-based reports had many not wanting to visit Mexico essentially because their neighbor’s aunt heard something from someone and says it’s not safe.
In both cases, for the DR and Mexico, we know well through our own first-hand experiences and based on the on-going feedback we get from our clients that it just ain’t true. If you look at the data, consider the State Department’s advisories and just use common sense, you’ll find that the Dominican Republic passes every test for traveler safety on its own merits and as compared to other destinations in the Caribbean, Europe and even the U.S. for that matter!
Even so, the Dominican Republic government has stepped up safety protocols with strengthened site inspections, monitored hotel medical staff and facilities, and enhancement of food-handling procedures for every resort in the destination. Plus, individual resorts are proactively enforcing safety measures. For example, the AMResorts® properties require regular staff trainings for emergency response situations and thoughtfully advise guests about responsible alcohol consumption during their stay. These extensive precautions are now in place to ensure clients receive the highest safety standards during their visit, all of which contributes to a fun and worry-free vacation.
The bottom line when it comes to successful and safe travels is to be a smart consumer. Step one is to seek out the expertise and guidance of a travel professional. Step two is utilize fact-based resources such as www.travfacts.org and www.YestoMexico.org to get the real deal on what is happening. Step three is to conduct yourself in a responsible way while on vacation. Don’t overindulge, use caution in unfamiliar situations and don’t put yourself in harm’s way…so basically behave as you would at home or if you were visiting New York, Chicago, or Miami.
Finally, take what you hear from the media and via your neighbor’s aunt with a highly skeptical grain of salt. All too often, people form opinions and make judgements based on headlines and morsels of information that catch their attention or fit their own pre-existing views of the world. Don’t fall into that trap as if there one thing I know to be the case, it is that “a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing”!
So be smart, be informed, be confident, live your life, and by all means, TAKE THE TRIP! The friendly and good people of the Dominican Republic are anxiously and enthusiastically awaiting your arrival!