Is it safe to travel to Jamaica? Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic? Many Americans have been asking this question before booking their Caribbean dream vacation. Why is travel to Jamaica booming and the Dominican Republic is in a tourism free-fall? Tourism experts are asking these questions as well.
Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are two countries with a very different vision on how to handle a travel and tourism crisis. Recent statistics demonstrate that Jamaica has increased its tourism by some 54.3%.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Dominican Republic. Latest statistics show a 143% decline in tourism arrivals. The difference? Jamaica is both honest and proactive when it comes to tourism and tourism security. When confronted with a problem, Jamaica recognized the challenge and then solves it.
This proactive policy is quite different from what the perception is of the Dominican Republic. During the recent crisis, the Dominican Republic appears to have taken a defensive position and rather than acknowledging a problem, tourists see it as trying simply to wash it away.
Tourism in Jamaica is booming after Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett recognized a problem and sought to fix it.
At the same time, Dominican Republic tourism is in a state of free-fall after the deaths of 13 Americans in just one month. American visitors who passed away were staying at the RIU and Hard Rock hotels. The problem became worse when reports surfaced of violent assaults.
The Hard Rock Hotels and RIU hotels chose to not respond to the many questions this publication had. The Dominican Republic Tourism Minister, Francisco Javier Garcia, blamed visitors’ alcohol consumption as the cause of death for more than a dozen American tourists. RIU Hotel response came from Germany. The head of Communication, Martin Riecken, at TUI in Hannover told eTN “We consider this request for a response as concluded since eTN is only making acquisitions. German TUI owns a major stake in RIU hotels.
Jamaica has taken a different path. When confronted with possible issues of property crime and sexual assault, Jamaica took the accusations seriously, adopted a proactive security policy, and made it clear that it would conduct not only a full and complete investigation but would do whatever was needed to assure the security and safety of its visitors. The result of this proactive policy is a record gain in tourist arrivals of 54.3%.
Leading Jamaica-based resort hotel group Sandals and most other hospitality groups cooperated with both foreign embassies and with the head of Jamaica’s tourism security team, Texas-based Dr. Peter Tarlow of safertourism.com. This cooperation has directly contributed to renewed confidence in Jamaica as a destination and has provided a jump-start in that nation’s tourism arrivals.
Different from the Dominican Republic hotels, Jamaica was responsive to eTurboNews, with the exception of RIU Jamaica in January. RIU’s corporate communication in Mallorca, Spain, denied there was a problem in Jamaica, when in fact the hotel chain was presented with a long list of proven safety and security issues by this writer.
At the same time, the Dominican Republic hired a U.S.-based PR agency to downplay numbers, and a for-hire researcher, ForwardKeys, published a report saying that the crisis appears to be abating. In reality, Dominican Republic arrivals in June showed a 143% decline. Although hotels in the Dominican Republic will not admit it, reliable sources indicate that some hotels have occupancy rates of 20% or less.
Just a year ago in 2018, the rate of unnatural deaths of Americans in Jamaica was 1.04 per 100,000. That’s higher than in the Bahamas (0.71 per 100,000) and the Dominican Republic (0.58 per 100,000). As of 2017, the rate of murders, homicides, and non-negligent manslaughter in the US was 5.3 per 100,000, according to the Pew Research Center, citing data from the FBI. All of this made the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or the Bahamas a lot safer place to visit compared to the United States in 2018.
Cliff Spiegelman from the Texas Department of Statistics commented these numbers were unfair. He said deaths per 100,000 tourists are calculated on a typical 1-2 week vacation. So a rate of one death per 100,000 tourists should translate in an annual rate of about 25-50 deaths per 100,000 citizens if this is compared with a rate where citizens live for the entire year. Considering this fact the 13 deaths of Americans in just one month vacationing in the Dominican Republic would bring this number way up.
Playing down a crisis is not the solution, says Dr. Peter Tarlow of Safertourism, an international expert in tourism security and crisis management. Instead, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Bartlett, has asked Dr. Tarlow to head a team that is conducting a full tourism and safety audit for Jamaica and is developing a national tourism security plan. The first results will be presented next week, during the time frame beginning July 28, 2019, when Dr. Tarlow is scheduled to present it at the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism in Kingston.
Concurrently, Minister Bartlett has opened the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre located at The University of the West Indies. The nation’s Prime Minister, the Hon. Andrew Holness, supported this important milestone in global travel and tourism security, making Jamaica the home of tourism resilience and a worldwide benchmark of excellence in tourism. Other countries, including Malta and Nepal, are now part of the Jamaican model and have opened satellite centers as well.
No longer is Jamaica seen as a country with a crisis. Former U.S. President Clinton was fascinated when he discussed the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center with Jamaica Minister Bartlett during the recent World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Summit in Seville, Spain.
A preliminary conclusion to be drawn is that those nations that embrace tourism security and safety not only become world leaders but it also adds to their nation’s economic growth and prosperity.