Article repost from Business Insider
by Áine Cain
- The Dominican Republic’s ministry of tourism is pushing back after a slew of media coverage of US tourist deaths on the island.
- Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia held a press conference in New York City on Thursday.
- Along with hospitality executives, Garcia said that the media got the story wrong, harming his country’s tourism industry in the process.
- A statement released at the event also included a number of specific measures that both the public and private sector are taking to bolster security for tourists.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Dominican Republic’s minister of tourism, Francisco Javier Garcia, on Thursday addressed the highly publicized series of tourist deaths in Punta Cana, saying that much of the media coverage from over the summer was sensationalist and unfair.
Speaking at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City along with a number of hospitality industry executives and advocates, along with US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Robin Bernstein, Garcia kicked off what he called a “repositioning” campaign regarding US perceptions of tourist safety in the Caribbean nation.
It’s not the first time that an official has pushed back against the media over this particular story. Ministry of Public Health spokesman Carlos Suero previously likened the surge of coverage to “hysteria.”
“The worst news for us is when we’re informed that one tourist has passed away,” Garcia said at the press conference on Thursday.
However, he said that his country and the resorts at Punta Cana have been treated unfairly in the press, resulting in scaremongering about the safety of visiting the Dominican Republic.
The press conference did not include allotted time for reporters to ask questions, and the public relations agency working on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism and the Consulate General of the Dominican Republic in New York did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s follow-up questions.
TravAlliancemedia CEO Mark Murphy, who moderated the event, started off the press conference by criticizing what he called “ridiculous” media coverage of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic. In his opening remarks, he said that news outlets generated “billions and billions of page views” on an “erroneous” story.
Speaking through a translator, Garcia opened his speech by comparing the level of media coverage this past summer to the intensity of the Allied bombing of Germany toward the end of World War II. He criticized the US press for the media frenzy that developed over the summer and also proceeded to cast doubt on a number of the most visible stories.
Specifically, he spoke about Tammy Lawrence-Daly, the American tourist who said she was attacked at the Dominican Republic’s Majestic Elegance Resort in January. She is now suing the resort for $3 million.
“It all started with an American tourist that visited us that had a situation that everybody here knows about and sometime later, in an orchestrated effort, published what she said happened to her on social media,” Garcia said. “Now what’s the real story?”
The minister said that, starting with that incident, “a hypothesis developed through the media” that an “avalanche” of “mysterious deaths” were occurring in the Dominican Republic.
Garcia said that extensive autopsies of all the tourists who passed away were completed, resulting in universal findings that the deaths came about due to natural causes. He also mentioned the case of Maryland couple Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Day, who were found dead of respiratory failure in their room at the Bahía Príncipe hotel. He said that his government immediately invited the FBI in to independently perform their own tests.
The press release further highlighted the FBI’s role in the ongoing investigation into a number of the cases: “At the request of Dominican authorities, the Federal Bureau of Investigations is conducting toxicology tests in three specific cases to bring clarity to unsubstantiated speculation and perceived similarities. The FBI is acting independently to ensure objectivity and results will be shared at their discretion.”
Garcia disputed the characterization that the deaths were “mysterious” and said that the island has not experienced an abnormally large number of tourist fatalities.
The minister is not the only one to call into question the narrative that the Dominican Republic has experienced an unusually high number of deaths this year. The US State Department also came out against the idea of an uptick in the fatality rate among US tourists visiting the country.
The minister said that the US State Department has assigned the Dominican Republic a safety level of two, as it has with France, Spain, Belgium, and Denmark. Later on during the event, Murphy would remark that certain parts of New York City could be listed as a level 3 or even a level 4 in terms of danger. He did not specify which neighborhoods he was talking about.
Garcia also pointed out the example of Las Vegas, where he said thousands of travelers died over the course of 2018, including 66 cases where the cause of death remains unclear.
In regards to the media’s coverage over the summer, Garcia said that the press frequently got facts wrong when chasing different stories, writing roundups of deaths that included fatalities not involving US tourists or people visiting Punta Cana resorts. The minister said that the press conference came about because he wants “the truth to come out” about the tourist deaths.
According to Garcia, news coverage from the summer has damaged his country’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism.
While the press conference focused mostly on disputing the media coverage from over the summer, a statement handed out at the event mentioned specific actions that the country is taking to bolster security for tourists.
Measures outlined in either the press conference or the press release included “doubling inspection capacities in tourist destinations throughout the country,” specifically honing in on resorts’ medical and lifeguarding staff; requiring hotels to post information about calling 911 in all guest rooms and provide information about contacting emergency service at check-in; building a “multi-lingual emergency center” in Bávaro; and trainings for all tourism industry inspectors using ServSafe, a food and beverage safety training program.
After the minister’s remarks, Murphy moderated a panel with the hospitality executives, Dominican Republic officials, and Bernstein. Other members of the panel included the VP of Dominican hospitality trade group ASONAHORES Rafael Blanco Tejera, Playa Hotels and Resorts CEO Bruce D. Wardinski, Apple Leisure Group Executive Chairman Alex Zozaya, and Carlos Castillo, the consul general of the Dominican Republic in New York.
The ambassador said that “her heart goes out to the families” who lost loved ones on vacation, but that she knows firsthand that the Dominican Republic is a safe place. She cast doubt upon the theory that some of the deaths were caused by illicit alcohol.
“Believe me, if it were alcohol, people would be dropping like flies,” she said.
Bernstein also asked the press to cover the issue responsibility, calling the media frenzy from the summer “an unfounded negative campaign.” Murphy added that the public relations campaign would also feature the establishment of a website where false stories about the Dominican Republic would be addressed.
“We’re going to call you out with the fake news,” Murphy said.