Many tourists are reconsidering traveling to the Dominican Republic amid news that at least nine Americans have mysteriously died there since June 2018.
Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about canceling your trip:
1. Is it safe to travel there?
In April, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging American tourists to "exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to crime."
"Violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault, is a concern throughout the Dominican Republic," read the advisory, which is still in effect. "The development of a professional tourist police corps, institution of a 911 system in many parts of the country, and a concentration of resources in resort areas means these tend to be better policed than urban areas like Santo Domingo. The wide availability of weapons, the use and trade of illicit drugs, and a weak criminal justice system contribute to the high level of criminality on the broader scale."
Despite the death reports, officials have not revised the notice to include any health warnings. In fact, the department said Wednesday that it has "not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths" in the popular vacation destination, ABC News reported.
"The overwhelming majority travel without incident," a department spokesperson said of the 2.7 million Americans who go there each year.
2. Flight cancellations are on the rise.
Although the State Department's position hasn't changed, more travelers appear to be canceling their trips to the Dominican Republic in wake of the reports.
According to The Washington Post, flight cancellations have risen 45% in recent weeks, while bookings have declined 59%, flight-data company ForwardKeys said. Meanwhile, Kayak reported a 19% decline in searches for flights to the Dominican Republic.
3. How are airlines responding?
Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest, United, American and Sun Country, told the Post that they will consider individual travelers' requests to cancel or change their flights to the Dominican Republic "on a case-by-case basis."
Southwest added that it offers "full store credit (since we don't levy punitive change fees)" to customers who cancel flights to any destination "as long as they are canceled up to an hour before departure," WSYX-TV reported.
So far, no carriers have announced blanket waivers for all customers with Dominican Republic travel plans, the Post reported. The waivers, which are issued during emergencies or natural disasters, let customers change their flights without incurring fees, according to the newspaper.
4. What are hotels saying?
Not much. The Post said many Dominican Republic resorts "did not immediately respond to questions"; however, Marriott International told the newspaper that it "will work with guests on a case-by-case basis if they are looking to change an existing reservation." The company operates six resorts in the Dominican Republic.
5. Experts recommend getting travel insurance.
Fred Kerner, a consultant with Grandview Travel in Ohio, told WSYX that travelers to any destination should purchase insurance.
"If the State Department by chance issues a higher travel warning than maybe they currently have, that would force people not to be able to go – Americans in specific," he told the station. "Then the insurance would probably kick in at that point and allow you to cancel."
Many companies even offer upgraded policies that will issue up to a 75% refund to a traveler who cancels a trip – no matter why, the Post reported.
Travel insurance comparison website Squaremouth reported a 24% rise in the number of travelers who have bought insurance for Dominican Republic vacations over the past few weeks, according to the Post. In addition, about 113% more customers have purchased upgraded policies, the company said.
Cox Media Group