US Tourists Return to DR and Its Casinos After Fears Over ‘Mysterious’ Deaths Abate

Posted on: July 9, 2019, 04:55h. 

Last updated on: July 9, 2019, 12:39h.

US flight bookings to the Dominican Republic have rallied after a sharp plunge last month as prospective visitors were rattled by a spate of allegedly mysterious American deaths in the Caribbean country in May and June.

Hard Rock Punta Cana
The Hard Rock Punta Cana is the DR’s largest casino, where two deaths of American tourists have occurred this year. But vacationers appear to have overcome anxieties after a big blip in June. (Image: Hard Rock Punta Cana)

The dramatic fall in visitation was a grave concern for DR’s gaming industry which is closely tied to the tourism sector. The vast majority of the nation’s casinos are housed within its sprawling all-inclusive resorts, which largely serve American tourists.

Travel industry consultancy firm ForwardKeys recorded an 84.4 percent decrease in bookings between June 1 and July 2.

But on Monday, American Airlines told USA TODAY that things appear to have returned to normal. The airline is now operating its full schedule of 120 flights per week to the DR, it said.

Three Deaths in One Resort in a Week

Bookings began to fall in early June after media reported on the mysterious deaths of Maryland couple Edward Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Day, who were found dead in their hotel room at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville on May 30.

Five days earlier, Pennsylvania psychotherapist Miranda Schaup-Werner had died at the same resort, reportedly after taking a drink from her minibar.

In all three cases, pulmonary edema leading to respiratory failure and/or cardiac arrest was listed as the cause of death.

Through June, there were at least six more American fatalities, while hundreds more reported falling ill, in many instances with symptoms more alarming than that simple “traveller’s diarrhea.”

Meanwhile, seeing the news reports, others came forward to report that their relatives had also died mysteriously in past year.

Hard Rock Punta Cana Takes Precautions

Two deaths in the last 12 months have occurred at the DR’s largest casino, the Hard Rock Punta Cana, which is a franchised property within the portfolio of Hard Rock International, a company owned by the Seminole Native American tribe of Florida.

Several weeks ago, the Hard Rock announced it would remove minibars from its guest rooms to ease fears that the deaths could have been caused by the ingestion of methanol from bootleg liquor.

According to American Airlines, bookings hit a nadir around June 20, but sales began to rebound around June 22.

Is the DR Safe for Tourists?

DR tourism officials have had a crisis on their hands, as they continue to insist that the number of deaths, although striking, are not statistically unusual and can be attributed to natural causes.

Tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia said during a press conference last month that by this point in 2011 and 2015, 15 US tourists had died in the country, which garnered little or no media attention. Some six million tourists visit the DR each year, of which just over a third are American.

“I am greatly relieved for the Dominican Republic that the crisis in confidence appears to be abating and I am hopeful that it will be relatively short-lived, particularly if there are no more deaths and if the current FBI investigation establishes a clear cause of death in each case and none of the causes was sinister,” Olivier Ponti, VP Insights at ForwardKeys, told USA TODAY.

The FBI is currently assisting local authorities with their investigation into the deaths and have conducted toxicology tests, the results of which are due later this month.