Bookings to the Dominican Republic from the US sink after a spate of tourist deaths, but there are signs of an uplift

Recent high profile US tourist deaths has created challenges for the Dominican Republic, triggering a decline in bookings for travel to the country for the rest of the US high summer travel season. As a result, other Caribbean destinations are benefitting from an upswing in demand.

More than 10 US tourists have died at various resorts in the Dominican Republic during the last year, and the New York Times has reported the US has sent a team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to assist local investigators with toxicological tests related to some of the deaths.

New research from ForwardKeys, which analyses flight bookings, shows between 1-Jun-2019 and 19-Jun-2019 bookings for Jul-2019 and Aug-2019 from the US to the Dominican Republic dropped -74.3% year-on-year. Its previous analysis shows from the start of Apr-2019 to 31-May-2019, bookings were up +2.8%.

The ForwardKeys study also shows that in the less than three week period from 1-Jun-2019 to 19-Jun-2019 cancellations of bookings from the US to the Dominican Republic for any future travel date increased by +51.2%, and then jumped to +70% after another death was reported on 11-Jun-2019.

“My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the American tourists who have passed away. Their recent and tragic deaths appear to have had a dramatic impact on travel to the Dominican Republic. Our analysis of leisure travel shows a striking correlation,” says Olivier Ponti, VP insights at ForwardKeys.

As bookings decline from the US to the Dominican Republic, other regions in the Caribbean are enjoying an increase in demand. During the period in Jun-2019 when bookings to the Dominican Republic plummeted, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Aruba all posted double digit gains.

TABLE – As bookings to the Dominican Republic plummet, demand into Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba is growing at a significant rateSource: ForwardKeys

The findings are backed up by data from Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) which has revealed that fewer tickets have been purchased to the Dominican Republic and more refunds for previously purchased tickets were requested during 1H2019, while the rest of the Caribbean and Mexico showed an increase in passengers.

It says its own data shows US ticket purchases for travel to the Dominican Republic decreased -10% year-on-year from 01-Jun-2019 to 23-Jun-2019, while refunds for ticket purchases increased +127% over the same period. The reduction is not just limited to US travellers with ticket purchases from outside the US for travel to the Dominican Republic decreasing -28% during the 01-Jun-2019 to 23-Jun-2019 period, although refunds, while +8%, is notably lower than for US originating travellers.

According to ARC, the destinations with the most significant increase in ticket purchases, comprised Saint Martin: +158%; Saint Barthélemy: +117%; Saint Vincent: +70%; Saint Lucia: +33%; and the Bahamas: +32%.

The Dominican Republic is currently attempting to deflect the attention from the high profile tourist deaths. The country’s tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia told USA Today that both in 1H2011 and 1H2015, 15 tourists died in the country.

He also stressed to the publication that the US State Department rates the Dominican Republic at a level 2. The agency urges increased caution for Americans traveling to countries with that designation. The country has maintained that level 2 rating since 2018 and its status has not changed since reports have emerged of the deaths, the publication stated.

The US serves as the largest country for visitors to the Dominican Republic, representing 34% or 2.2 million arrivals in 2018. Those visitor levels represented a roughly+ 8% increase year-on-year and highlights why the Dominican Republic’s government and tourism bodies need to take all the necessary steps to ensure it remains safe for US tourists visiting the country.

Following the publication of its initial report ForwardKeys, has highlighted that the slump in bookings may be reversing, based on new data. It says that in the month period from 01-Jun-2019 to 02-Jul-2019 bookings for July and August from the USA to the Dominican Republic fell by a significant -84.4% compared to the equivalent period in 2018. However, a closer look at daily data reveals that bookings bottomed on 19-Jun-2019, according to the bookings intelligence specialist,and actually exceeded cancellations again on 26-Jun-2019.