The Dominican Republic is working with “crisis management specialists” after a spate of deaths, illnesses, and a violent shooting has driven the country’s popularity rapidly down.
Dominican officials said they weren’t prepared for the widespread backlash, which has seen a number of prospective tourists cancel their plans.
“Unfortunately, the unrelated incidents coincided in timing,” André Van Der Horst, tourism adviser to the Dominican Republic government, told the Washington Post.
“With social media today, we are exposed and require an immediate response to the current public relations dynamic, a new reality worldwide,” he said. “We are not used to this type of viral communicational outburst and are working with crisis management specialists to establish reaction protocols.”
Officials have said there is no known link between the deaths, four of which took place at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana or the nearby Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville, which are in the same resort. Two others were reported at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana.
Hotel officials told the Post on condition of anonymity that there are “more cancellations than usual.”
Paola Rainieri, president of the Dominican National Association of Hotels and Tourism, forecasted fewer visitors than normal while criticizing people for “irrational and unfair conclusions about isolated incidents.”
“We are immensely worried because all the speculation affects the image of the island and the minds of those who visit us,” Rainieri said. “They may cancel their trips despite a lack of evidence.”
In an attempt to tip the balance back towards tourists coming to the country, the government launched a campaign on Monday with the hashtag “BeFairWithDR.”
Many of the Americans who died were said to have been killed by some combination of respiratory failures, pulmonary edemas, or heart attacks, lending credence to people who think at least some of the deaths are linked.
The FBI and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the teams probing the deaths, which began being reported on May 30 after a Maryland couple was found dead at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana.
Some people were still going to the Dominican Republic, including a Belgian couple who was at the same hotel.
“Americans don’t have a great reputation traveling. They are quite delicate,” 56-year-old Rudy Hugherbart told the Post. “The Dominican Republic is a beautiful place and we love it.”
Others have said on social media they plan on traveling to the country despite what’s been happening while many have said they were scuttling plans or wouldn’t travel there.
In addition to the deaths and illnesses, the country was in renewed focus after baseball legend David Ortiz was shot at a club in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo on June 9. Ortiz, a Dominican native, survived and was flown to the United States for surgery the following day.
There have also been reports of brutal beatings or sexual assaults.
A Delaware woman added to the rash of bad news when she shared pictures of herself with major injuries, saying she’d been at another resort in the country in January when she was shoved into a maintenance room and beaten for eight hours before being left for dead. Dominican officials have pushed back against her account and accused her of misrepresenting some aspects of the story.
And an Instagram influencer said on Tuesday that she had a rough time when she and her husband traveled to the Dominican Republic last year, claiming she was sexually assaulted and nearly kidnapped.