SANTO DOMINGO – Dozens of ambassadors and members of the foreign diplomatic corps accredited in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday attended an event called by the government to counteract the “disinformation campaign” that it says has been targeting the country’s tourism industry after the deaths of eight Americans since January.
The unusual conference brought together four government ministers, hoteliers and other authorities, along with numerous foreign diplomats who, for 90 minutes listened to a series of arguments supporting the Dominican tourism sector, the country’s main source of foreign earnings.
The diplomats, who gathered at the Foreign Ministry, applauded the arguments of the Dominican officials several times and related their own positive experiences on the country’s beaches.
Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas said that the meeting was intended to contribute “all pertinent elements of good sense” so that diplomats can transmit to their countries the true situation in the tourism sector.
Vargas, who was emphatic in his criticism of the foreign press, said that the Dominican Republic has been the target of a “media campaign intended to affect the country’s image before the international community.”
According to some international media outlets, the news of the tourist deaths has resulted in the cancellation of hotel reservations in the Dominican Republic, especially by tourists from the US, which is the main tourist-sending country to the Caribbean nation, but the Santo Domingo government has denied those reports.
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia reiterated that there are no “mysterious deaths” in the Dominican Republic, since the autopsies have been made public in each case and pre-existing health conditions have been factors, adding that there has not been “an avalanche” of deaths of US tourists, as some media outlets in that country have reported.
He also insisted that the deaths of Americans traveling to the Dominican Republic have been reduced by 58 percent, according to figures from the ministry, and he asked the press to be “fair” when they speak about the Dominican tourism sector.
In addition, he said that Dominican authorities are increasing security and announced that in the coming days President Danilo Medina will issue a decree giving “special functions to the different government institutions for the protection of tourists.”
He also defended the idea that – in a country that welcomes 7.5 million tourists a year, almost 60 percent of them from the US – a small percentage of deaths within that group is expected, a stance that was expressed to tour operators in New York last weekend, where he traveled as part of his government’s efforts to counteract the media reports.
Spanish Ambassador Alejandro Abellan told EFE that “nobody is safe from possible malicious uses of information.”
He said that he was convinced that “there is a gap between the known data and the assertions and doubts that have been put in place about safety in the Dominican Republic.”
Tourism is the Dominican Republic’s main source of foreign earnings, and among the 7.5 million tourists who visit the country each year are one million cruise ship passengers.
During the first five months of 2019, according to the country’s Central Bank, the Dominican Republic welcomed 2,988,155 foreign travelers and non-resident Dominicans, that figure being 134,157 more than during the same period last year.