Published on Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Dom Rep Hard Rock removes minibars following tourist deaths

Hard Rock resort in the Dominican Republic is to remove minibars from guest rooms as the destination suffers from a dramatic bookings slump amid concern over tourist deaths in the past year.

At least nine tourists have died in less than a year in the destination and there are suggestions that at least some drank contaminated alcohol.

Victims include 67-year-old American guest Robert Wallace, who died at the Hard Rock in Punta Cana, allegedly after drinking a whisky from his minibar, in April.

Last July, another US tourist, David Harrison, died after staying at the Hard Rock resort.

There is no proof that alcohol was to blame for either death, but some of the nine who died are believed to have drunk alcohol shortly before becoming ill.

Several other people claim to have become sick after drinking from hotel minibars.

As a result, Hard Rock is to remove its minibars and is instructing a US healthcare operator to look at its on-site clinic to ensure it 'is complying with all international and US standards of care'.

Concern over the deaths has seen bookings from the US to Caribbean destination fall by almost 75% year-on-year.

Forward Keys, which analyses over 17 million flight bookings a day, said from June 1 to 19, bookings from the US for July and August were down by 74.3% compared to the same period of 2018.

The most recent death was Vittorio Caruso, aged 56, on June 17 at the Boca Chica Resort in Santo Domingo. On June 13, Joseph Allen, aged 53, was found dead in his hotel room at the Terra Linda Resort in Sosua. On June 10, Leyla Cox, 53, died in her hotel room at the Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana.

Four of the holidaymakers to have died in the past year were staying at Bahia Prinicipe properties in the Caribbean destination; three of them died last month.

American holidaymaker Miranda Schaup-Werner, aged 41, died in her room, allegedly after have a drink from her minibar.

Five days later, engaged couple Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Day, 49, were found dead in their room at the Bahia Principe La Romana, a neighbouring hotel on the same resort.

All three were said to have died of a pulmonary edema and respiratory failure. It has also emerged that a fourth tourist, 51-year-old Yvette Sport, died suddenly at the Bahia Principe resort in Punta Cana last June.

She is alleged to have died of a heart-attack but her family has questioned her death following the more recent fatalities. Bahia Principe said its reputation has been damaged by media speculation following the multiple deaths. It said it is co-operating with investigations.

ForwardKeys vice president Insights Olivier Ponti said the 'recent and tragic deaths appear to have had a dramatic impact on travel to the Dominican Republic'.

He said the three deaths in May appear to have triggered an initial stall in bookings, and the situation worsened after the death of Leyla Cox on June 10 and Joseph Allen on June 13.

The deaths have also caused a 51% jump in cancellations in the first three weeks of June.The day after Leyla Cox's death on June 11, cancellations exceeded 70%.

"The recent deaths have sparked an extraordinary level of media interest in the US, with many major news organisations reporting on the latest developments. It amounts to a dreadful image crisis for the Dominican Republic because the US is the number one source market for tourism to the destination."

At the same time, bookings for some other Caribbean islands have surged. Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba ; from April 1 to May 31, bookings were down 8.4%, up 7.0% and down 3.5% respectively. However, for the period June 1 to June 19, they were up 26%, 44.5% and 31.3% respectively.

Last week it was announced the annual Sand and Soul Festival due to be held at Hard Rock resort later this year has been cancelled due to growing concerns.

The company issued a statement saying: "Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana follows internationally recognised regulations regarding guest health, sanitation and security."

However, tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia said news reports have not been objective and are 'exaggerated'.

A US State Department official said deaths recorded there in the Dominica Republic in 2019 are generally in line with previous years.

"Over 2.7 million US citizens visit the Dominican Republic each year, and we have not seen an uptick in the number of US citizen deaths reported to the department," he said.


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