Over the past few weeks, there have been lots of news coverage on Americans who have either gotten really sick or died while visiting the Dominican Republic (DR). As of the date of this post, there have been 11 suspicious, sudden deaths of American tourists in the DR over the past three months… again, that’s just within the past 90 days. As travel professionals, what can we do to protect our customers and our businesses in the wake of these tragedies?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the DR as a tourist destination until about 20 years ago. Being from a small town in Virginia, I hadn’t even heard of it. It was no where near as popular as the Bahamas or Jamaica. But it has grown in popularity over the years and as such, tourism to this Spanish-speaking Caribbean island has grown dramatically. In fact, it rivals Jamaica when it comes to all-inclusive, beachside resort properties with infinity pools and crystal-clear water. What I find unique about the island, however, is the number of beautiful palm trees that naturally shade the island’s beaches; not to mention the crashing waves that look like a warm and inviting bubble bath as they hit the sand.
For my travel business, Caribbean Mastermind Retreats, the DR is an ideal destination for my group clients. As a result, I have traveled to the island several times, and fortunately, I made it back home, safely; although my first visit resulted in a visit to the gastroenterologist after my return to the states. Turns out, I should not have had so much faith in the purity of the tap water served at lunch and dinner, which had never been a problem for me on other islands. So even after that, I returned to the DR three additional times.
With all that is being reported in the news these days about the number of Americans dying in the DR, what, as agents/advisors are we to do? This situation reminds me so much of 2007, when I was operating my first group travel business, On The Go LLC (OTG). OTG specialized in taking groups to music festivals and sporting events throughout the US and Caribbean. Our most popular event was the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, every 4th of July weekend. Well, if you remember, something big happened in New Orleans in 2007 that would forever impact the world’s view of New Orleans; Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina severely flooded parts of New Orleans, destroying much of the city. Houses were nearly completely submerged in flood waters, while the downtown area’s stadium and convention center served as shelters. In addition, images and stories of people being “swept away” by receding flood waters” and images of people standing on the rooves of their houses, waving their arms, begging to be rescued flooded news stations globally (no pun intended). Fortunately, for me and my business, the hurricane hit the city shortly after the three-day event. However, it still had a major impact on our operations. Because of the popularity of the event, we booked rooms (actually chartered 50% of a very popular hotel that was located in the center of EVERYTHING) a year in advance for the following year. So, for 2008, we already had a contract in place. But there were two problems; one, the event was temporarily moved to another city for the following year; and two, even after two years, people weren’t ready to go back to New Orleans because all they could visualize were the images seen on TV of people waiting to be rescued. Regardless, the hotel wanted those rooms filled! Luckily, it was a chain hotel and I was able to transfer the contract to another property for different event in an alternative city. But it took MONTHS to negotiate the exchange or risk being sued for upwards of $40,000. Luckily, I didn’t have to rely on insurance to help me out of this situation, but, this (and the situation in the DR) is a reminder that you must have your insurances in place to protect you and your business from unexpected and unfortunate revenue-busters such as these. Here is a short list of insurances to consider:
Travel Insurance – As a travel professional, you should always make an offer to your clients to purchase travel insurance. This is especially easy if you have a group of people traveling together because in most cases, you can automatically include the cost of the insurance with the price of the trip (see your state’s insurance regulations). Most travel insurances don’t cover cancellations as a result of “fear”, unless it is a policy that allows the traveler to “cancel for any reason”. However, a traveler may be able to cancel due an unexpected illness. I’m not sure if “anxiety” can be considered an unexpected illness. A doctor might be willing to offer that diagnosis in writing. I’m almost certain anxiety is comparable ‘fear’, but either way, don’t forget this important step in the selling process to PROTECT YOUR CLIENTS!
Professional/General Liability Insurance – When something bad happens, people don’t just sue anybody, they sue EVERYBODY! That’s why professional liability or general liability insurance is so important. With regard to the cases in the DR, I’m certain that the surviving family members are looking for justice, and rightfully so. As a result, they may be looking for answers from the travel professional who may have recommended the DR and secured the reservations. I honestly have no idea if or how there could even be a lawsuit in this scenario (I am no lawyer), but it is better to be safe than sorry, so, PROTECT YOURSELF!
Errors & Omissions Insurance – Even though the stories about what is happening in the DR are all over the news, many people may not be aware. Particularly now that so many people are ditching their cable for streaming services like Netflix, there may be no opportunity to watch the news. So, what if someone books a trip to the DR with you and you fail to let them know about the recent happenings there and something goes horribly wrong. Could you be a target for a lawsuit if something should happen? Maybe. So again, PROTECT YOURSELF!
When it is all said and done, the DR isn’t going anywhere and in due time the island WILL bounce back from this. Let’s just hope the authorities can figure out what is causing people to lose their lives before any more lives are lost. In the meantime, PROTECT YOUR CLIENTS AND YOURSELF!
Note: A special prayer goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in the Dominican Republic. A special prayer also goes out to our friends and all of the industry employees (hotel staff, drivers, etc.) who have been negatively impacted by the reduction in the number of tourists to the island.
Note: I’m not a lawyer or licensed insurance provider. Therefore, the information contained in this article should not be consider legal or insurance advice.