In the past year, there have been at least 11 deaths of tourists visiting all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic which has left many people wondering if they need to cancel their vacation plans. These deaths are obviously concerning, but at the same time, I do believe there’s a lot of false information out there.

If you read “expert” opinion online, they’ll tell you that it could have been tainted alcohol or gas and chemicals used to clean rooms that killed the tourists, but when you start digging deeper (and use common sense), you’ll quickly realize that those “reasons” are just rumours and likely have no truth to them. So, is the Dominican Republic safe? Keep reading to find out.

Why are tourists dying?

No one knows for sure, but the government has reported that the guests have passed away due to heart attacks or natural causes. Many family members believe this to be false information as their loved ones were in a healthy condition before they went on vacation. In the end, no one can say for sure except the medical professional who did the post mortem examination.

Some believe that the alcohol being served at some resorts is being tainted so they can save money. Here’s the thing, let’s just say that did happen and they’re saving $10 a bottle. One incident can ruin their business. These headlines are likely costing the resorts involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in cancellations a day. Do you really think they would risk all that business for $10 a bottle?

Another theory I read was that hotels are using pesticides or gas to clean rooms. Seriously? When have you ever been to a hotel that uses gas to clean rooms? If deadly gas was indeed involved, there would be a lot more than just 11 people who have died.

I also want to point out that 11 deaths in the past year aren’t exactly a huge number. For example, in 2017, it was estimated that there were 17,284 murders in the U.S. California alone had 1,800 murders that year. Have people stopped visiting the U.S. because of this murder rate? Nope.

What you should be concerned about

Regardless of where you’re from, you should check your government website to see if there are any travel warnings for the Dominican Republic. Since I’m Canadian, I use the Government of Canada website which currently has the following warnings for the Dominican Republic.

Travel Health Notice – Zika virus

The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued advice for travellers on the Zika virus, recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to the Dominican Republic

Petty crime

Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag-snatching, occurs throughout the country. Tourists are common targets for theft. Crime tends to rise during holiday periods.

There is currently no mention of the tourist deaths which means it’s not a major concern right now for the government. Petty crime is an issue, but you likely wouldn’t need to worry about that if you’re staying on your resort property where they have their own security teams and a ton of cameras. I should note that the higher end resorts and hotels likely have better security in place than smaller properties.

If you do decide to go off property, make sure you have your hotel provide transportation for you. It also helps to use some common sense. Don’t wear expensive jewelry and don’t walk down random streets trying to find the “real” Dominican Republic.

Food and drink concerns

Another big concern for tourists is food and drink. Is it possible that food poisoning has lead to these deaths? Anything is possible, but you need to look at the big picture. The big name hotels all have reputations to keep so they treat their food and drink seriously.

I stayed at the Paradisus Grand Reserve and their water is treated at international standards which is above what the Dominican Republic requires. In addition, they have their filtration systems on site and their water is randomly tested throughout the year to ensure that everything is safe. 

To ensure guests are satisfied, they also import a lot of their product. If they were serving something of lesser quality, you would know. While I was at the property, every time I ordered a coke or a bottle of water, the staff ensured to open it in front of me so I could see it was new. All the alcohol was also above the counter so I could see what was being served.

As for the food, I was told that they keep a detailed log of where the food has come from and what is being served each day. If a guest claims they got food poisoning, the staff can trace everything back to the source.

It’s also important to note that with food poisoning, it rarely affects one person. If there’s an actual outbreak, dozens if not hundreds of people would get sick and it’s usually children and the elderly that are affected first.

Not every resort may be as diligent as the Paradisus Grand Reserve, but I imagine they’ve got their own standards in place. Remember, they don’t want to affect their reputation as the loss of income could ruin them.

Medical attention in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has a great network of medical professionals. The major hotels and resorts all have doctors who are on-site and available 24/7. The country also has multiple international hospitals that can assist you if you have a more serious injury.

The key thing here is to ensure you have travel insurance. Without having travel insurance in place, your medical bills can be quite expensive depending on what you’re getting treatment for. The good thing is that travel medical insurance is quite cheap. You can get a yearly plan that covers up to 23 consecutive days of travel for about $150 CAD.

It’s also worth noting that you may already have free travel insurance. Many employers offer travel insurance as a standard benefit. Most of the best travel credit cards in Canada also include travel medical insurance as a default benefit.

The other advantage of having travel medical insurance is that you can call the support line for assistance. They can advise you on where to seek out medical attention and pre-approve you for any expenses. 

Can I cancel my trip to the Dominican Republic?

Since there is currently no travel advisory, it’s unlikely you can just straight up cancel your trip without forfeiting your costs to date. Some airlines are willing to offer a refund or credit but that’s on a case-to-case basis. I personally think that’s the corporate line they’re using but in reality, you’d probably not get a refund.

If you booked your holiday through a tour operator, they might be more willing to switch destinations as long as you pay any difference in cost. The thing is, do you think switching your vacation to say Mexico or Cuba is any safer than had you just gone to the Dominican Republic? Probably not as you’d have the same issues.

You also can’t rely on your trip cancellation insurance to get your money back as the recent tourist deaths would not qualify as a reason to make a claim.

Is the Dominican Republic safe?

I obviously can’t say with any guarantees whether the Dominican Republic is safe for not, but travellers need to use common sense whenever they go abroad. After factoring in all of the above, I personally felt safe travelling to the Dominican Republic with my family.

There will always be concerns about safety wherever you travel, but sometimes things can get overblown by the media. Be smart about your surroundings and enjoy your vacation.