Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism announced new safety measures last week to reassure travelers to the island in the wake of media coverage of tourists experiencing health issues—and even death—over the past several months. The situations are being investigated, but the U.S. State Department has not issued an elevated travel warning.
Here is a summary of proactive steps planners can take to help ensure the safety and security of attendees.
Affect on the Meeting Industry
Paul Steinmentz, director of The American Meetings Network at American Meetings, Inc., says, “Lots of meeting planners are being affected [by recent events]. Meetings are cancelling, groups are cancelling and relocating throughout the Caribbean.”
He blames public perception as the media frenzy around recent events continues to take its toll on the country. “I think there’s a real case of optics,” he says. “The problem is how meeting attendees are going to feel knowing they have a meeting in Punta Cana, having just read the news [even though] the likelihood that something will happen in reality is low.”
What’s Being Done
The new safety initiatives include requiring hotels to: post information on how to contact embassies, the tourism police force and 911 services in every guest room; increase the number of monitoring measures; and having medical facilities located inside. Also, a multilingual emergency tourist center has opened in Bavaro, home to ever-popular Punta Cana. Hotel inspections will be doubled, and now include detailed food and handling protocols as well as comprehensive information on all food-and-beverage suppliers.
Licensing and training of medical personnel working inside first-aid facilities at hotels will be scrutinized and the country’s Department of Tourism Services and Companies will closely monitor the medical offices within hotels. In addition, aquatic facilities such as pools will be closely inspected, and certified lifeguards will be in place.
The Hard Rock Hotel, where two tourists died, pulled alcohol from minibar dispensers in June.
Want to plan an event in the Dominican Republic, but not sure how to go about ensuring attendees feel safe? Prevention is key. For example, encourage attendees to make two copies of their passport—one for safekeeping with a trusted person and the other on hand as a back-up in case their real passport is stolen.
Always make sure you are easy to locate in case of emergency—and advise attendees to do the same—by enrolling in Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service for U.S. citizens and nationals provided by the State Department. Trips are registered with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, and registrants get safety alerts about their destination.
Reassure Attendees with Travel Insurance
No matter where you plan meetings, one preventive measure you can take is to get travel insurance. Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, says his company has seen a dramatic increase in travel insurance purchases, especially for travel to the Dominican Republic, this year. He notes that coverage for those with the Dominican Republic as their primary destination is up 60 percent this year (as of June). When comparing month-to-date, Sandberg’s company saw a 200 percent increase compared to last year.
Sandberg advises travelers who are going abroad to purchase travel insurance that offers medical assistance with evacuation coverage for worst-case scenarios.
“Where travel insurance can provide real value for those traveling to the Dominican Republic is with emergency medical and emergency evacuation coverage,” he says. “If you were to get sick, you’d be able to go to a hospital there and have those medical expenses covered. In a severe or crisis situation, if you could not get treated in the Dominican Republic, then you will be covered for a medical evacuation if that’s included in your plan.
Coverage is available for groups if there is a minimum of 10 applicants. Everyone under the plan will have to travel together, with some flexibility—as long as the group has the same itinerary. “Group plans are a great way for leaders to make sure everyone has coverage,” Sandberg says.
Keep in mind, however, that while travel insurance covers trip cancellation and interruption for a wide range of reasons—from unexpected illness to hurricanes—it will not provide trip cancellation protection for travelers having second thoughts about their Dominican Republic trips due to fears.