A string of high profile deaths, illnesses and a claim of assault in the Dominican Republic has cast a shadow of concern over a country whose economy is largely driven by tourism.
But despite the tragic headlines, hotel officials and safety experts are cautioning travelers not to rush to conclusions. The connections, they say, are not immediately apparent and safety experts in particular are warning that the country is no more dangerous than it was before.
“It’s not an overly dangerous place,” former CIA agent and current Regional Security Director of International SOS Matthew Bradley tells TIME. “I would still consider the Dominican Republic a safe place to go.”
About 6.5 million tourists visited the island in 2018, making it the top destination in the Caribbean, according to the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange. But for those millions of travelers with trips booked, police and resort officials are asking the public to wait for conclusions from investigations before making assumptions — and denying there is anything nefarious at play.
High-profile incidents involving American tourists
Since the beginning of 2019, there have been multiple high-profile cases involving American tourists dying or being seriously injured while staying in the Dominican Republic.
Miranda Schaup-Werner of Pennsylvania died on May 25 after she was found unresponsive by hotel staff in her Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville resort hotel room. According to the hotel, which is located in San Pedro de Macoris, The National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the National Police Investigations Unit concluded the 41-year-old had suffered a heart attack. In a statement, Bahia Principe says that her husband, who she was traveling with, confirmed she had a history of heart conditions.
Five days later, on May 30, Maryland couple Cynthia Ann Day, 49 and Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63 were both found unresponsive in their rooms by hotel staff the day they were scheduled to check out. Bahia Principe confirmed the couple was staying at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, which is less than a mile away from sister resort Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville where Schaup-Wener stayed. According to Bahia Principe, there were no signs of violence and the case of Holmes and Day is still under investigation and awaiting results of toxicology test.
“To date, there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents,” the hotel’s statement read. “We disapprove of any speculation and conjecture on the possible causes of death and urge all to respect the families while the investigation is ongoing.”
In response to the information that has been circulating in different media outlets regarding the two unfortunate events in the Dominican Republic, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts would like to clarify the following: pic.twitter.com/Pg8QFmaq1L— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) 5 de junio de 2019
On Friday, a Colorado couple told CNN they are suing the resort the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort, where Day and Holmes stayed, after falling ill last June. Kaylynn Knull, 29, and her boyfriend Tom Schwander, 33, said they were forced to cut their trip short because they fell seriously ill during their stay at the resort. When the couple returned home, still feeling sick, a doctor told the couple they were likely exposed to organophosphates, a chemical typically found in pesticide.
“There’s something going on,” Knull told CNN. “What happened to us may be related to what happened to them.”