Recent headlines, splashed across U.S. media, have reported that at least 11 Americans have recently died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. But despite the bad press, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) is advocating that Americans consider the island when planning their next getaway.
"The Dominican Republic is still a safe place to go, and I encourage people to travel there,' the Congressman told Cheddar.
Regarding suspicion that bootleg alcohol could be behind the recent tragedies, the Congressman said: "There is no evidence of that, but there's still a [FBI] toxicology report that we're waiting for the results for."
He has also commissioned a report to investigate the deaths, with the results expected this week.
In a statement to Cheddar, the U.S. State Department says that it has no evidence of an unusual rise in the number of deaths of American travelers in the Dominican Republic, despite the widespread media reports suggesting the contrary.
The Congressman says he has been encouraged by cooperation from officials in the Dominican Republic, who — based on initial recommendations — dispute the implication that the deaths are related, and a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email that local authorities' initial investigations have not found a connection between the 11 cases.
"Obviously, when anybody dies, coverage is fair. But I think that, at the same time, you have to be balanced and also show that the tourism industry that is run in the country," Expaillat said.
Still, fear that the country could be dangerous for U.S. travelers has threatened the Dominican Republic's tourism industry somewhat.
According to ForwardKeys, a service that tracks flight purchases, bookings to the Dominican Republic purchased in June — for travel in July and August — fell 85 percent compared to the same period last year, though bookings are slowly bouncing back.
Meanwhile, as several of the tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic were reported throughout June, it appears nearby that Jamaica, Aruba, and the Bahamas saw an increase in bookings compared to the same period last year.
However, in an emailed statement, Pablo Espinal, the chief of staff for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism said, "We're encouraged by the uptick in bookings we're beginning to see again and remain staunchly committed to the public safety of all our travelers."
The State Department has kept the country's safety rating at a level 2, warning travelers to exert "increased caution" and that "violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide, and sexual assault, is a concern throughout the Dominican Republic."