Things That Matter

What The Heck Is Going On In The DR That Made 47 Jimmy Buffett Fans Violently Sick On A Recent Trip

Recently, we’ve gotten reports of tourist deaths resulting in visits to the Dominican Republic. Fortunately, this story doesn’t have any casualties but it’s further proof of trouble in paradise. This time, it’s a group of 114 Oklahoma-based Jimmy Buffett fans who have fallen ill.

In an April trip to Punta Cana, 47 of the fans allegedly got violently sick during their trip.

Twitter / @msn

The group — the Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association — spent a week at the Dominican Republic’s Hotel Riu Palace Macao. During the trip, the nearly 50 fans began feeling ill; experiencing extreme diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and headaches. Dana Flowers, a member, and the group’s travel agent, told PEOPLE that they first thought the illness was food poisoning.

“We went [to the resort] for the week — some longer, some shorter,” he shared with the magazine. “We were enjoying the beach and the pool, and about 3 or 4 days into the trip we started hearing about people getting sick.”

Unfortunately, some of the group’s members are still experiencing symptoms two months afterwards.

Twitter / @NYDailyNews

It wasn’t until after the symptoms worsened that the group suspected it was more than food poisoning that was making them sick. According to Flowers, who also got sick, everyone who became ill swam in a specific pool or drank at the pool’s swim-up bar.

Things became more suspicious when the group sought medical treatment from doctors in the Dominican Republic.

“Most of them got an IV, then were prescribed a medicine for parasites,” Flowers explained. “[The doctors] didn’t do any testing, they just automatically gave them medicine for parasites.”

According to Flowers, two members of the group tested positive for salmonella after returning to the States.

Twitter / @puppet90210

In a statement provided to PEOPLE, Hotel Riu Palace Macao is denying responsibility for the illness.

The statement reads in part:

“We are aware that three guests staying last April at this hotel and coming from the same group … were attended by a possible case of gastroenteritis in our doctor’s office. These events occurred after an external activity of this group outside the hotel, so we can not determine the exact origin of the stomach upset. … No more similar cases were registered by other guests during the indicated date above.”

In response to the illnesses and deaths coming from DR, there are calls for Americans to no longer visit the country.

Twitter / @BTruhome

As far as we know, it’s only American tourists suffering illness and death from visits to DR. The public outcry will no doubt impact American tourism to the country.

According to some, this has been going on much longer than we realized.

Twitter / @Pbosslady

This Twitter user shared a response from a personal incident at the Punta Cana Hotel and Casino Hard Rock. She became ill after drinking wine at the hotel’s karaoke bar. As she pointed out, these clusters of incidents are finally calling proper attention to this problem.

Some are even suggesting government interference to prevent this from happening again.

Twitter / @Beauty4Ashes_1

It’s likely that the CDC — which is investigating the deaths out of DR — will enact a travel ban if one comes about. However, maybe it’s best to avoid this part of the Caribbean for now regardless of a ban.

Dominican Republic Launches #TheRealDR to Combat Negative Press

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Dominican Republic Launches #TheRealDR to Combat Negative Press

@GoDemRep / Twitter

After a year of the negative press focused on the suspicious American deaths that occurred in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, the country is launching an integrated marketing campaign aimed to rebuild tourists’ trust in the country. The Dominican Republic had confirmed that the autopsies and toxicology reports were “consistent with natural causes.” The  FBI opened its own investigation into the deaths because of the number of American deaths and concluded that they were “consistent with the findings of local authorities,” according to a statement from the Office of Consular Affairs of the State Department, reported by The Hill. Many suspected methanol poisoning from alcohol in the minibar, but the FBI ruled it out and found the American deaths were from natural causes.

Now, the country is seeking to reclaim its reputation, and it’s looking at Canada.

Canada is the Dominican Republic’s second most important international market after the United States.

Credit: @GoDomRep / Twitter

Cosette Garcia, director of the Dominican Republic’s Tourist Office in Montreal, Canada, told Travel Pulse that Canada’s importance to the Dominican Republic is because it’s a “tour operator” market. “That is to say that almost 100 percent of Canadians who go to the Dominican Republic are tourists,” Garcia says. “For us, this market is therefore of paramount importance.” Basically, the Dominicans that have moved to the United States will continue to return to the island to visit family. Those Dominican-American’s are also far less likely to stay at expensive resorts and spend as much money. It’s a family trip, not a Caribbean vacation like it would be for Canadians.

The country’s Ministry of Tourism office will be promoting its clear ocean waters and luxurious resorts on all platforms.

Credit: @GoDomRep / Twitter

The office has arranged for Canada’s top travel news outlets to travel to Punta Cana, in the hopes that it will revitalize tourism from Canadians this winter. Compared to last year, the country lost 100,000 visitors between January and September of this year. Sensational media reports discredited the Dominican Republic’s investigations into the deaths, fanned by confused and grieving family members calling for the media to investigate. One couple was found dead in their hotel room, and both were determined to have died of respiratory failure. Another grieving family member called on Senator Menendez (NJ) to demand justice for his brother, Joseph E. Allen III. All the while, Dominicans were taking to social media to make sure people stopped trying to cancel the Dominican Republic.

“These are unfortunately sad events, but these are things that happen in every normal tourist destination that receives more than seven million tourists each year,” Garcia told the outlet. “It’s normal to have natural death statistics.”

Officials maintained that the Dominican Republic was “no less safe than it was before,” according to a CNN report.

Credit: @GoDomRep / Twitter

“In the last five years, over 30 million tourists have visited the Dominican Republic, but this is the first time the international media report such an alarming situation,” Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia responded. “These are isolated incidents and the Dominican Republic is a safe destination.” The tourism office is now promoting videos of “real tourists” who are talking about how great their vacation to the island has been.

Even though the FBI has corroborated the Dominican Republic’s credibility, the public still needs some winning over.

Credit: @SoonerManiac / Twitter

The public wants to hear about the minibars, and the country is hoping to quell some irrational fears. “The FBI has debunked all of the false rumors put out by the mainstream media and I’m thankful to be here with companies combatting the issues hurting this destination,” tweeted journalist Paul Smith of Travel SmithsMainstream media created a tourism crisis for the country, and now, the Dominican Republic is marketing both toward tourists and mainstream media alike with a new campaign.

Now, the Dominican Republic is launching its own hashtag campaign: #TheRealDR. 

Credit: @GoDemRep / Twitter

It’s tough because, no matter what Dominican Republic officials said, the families of the deceased didn’t trust it, and that was communicated to the rest of the world. Critics are already using the hashtag to tweet, “#TheRealDR So you’ll see the REAL Dominican Republic by staying at an all-inclusive resort where the staff hates you so much they put poison in the booze and murder you. Great ad, DR.”

“This campaign offers a level of transparency and authenticity like nothing we have ever done before,” Magaly Toribio, the Marketing Advisor for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, told Dominican Today. “We are looking forward to sharing the beauty and culture of our country through the words and first-person experiences of our tourists.”

READ: New Safety Measures In The Dominican Republic Following American Deaths

This Is Why It’s Not A Good Idea To Take A Selfie With Wild Animals In Costa Rica

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This Is Why It’s Not A Good Idea To Take A Selfie With Wild Animals In Costa Rica

SaltyyRose / Instagram

When you think of Costa Rica, what do you think of? Maybe its volcanoes? Or possibly its luxurious beaches? Or maybe just the fact that it’s home to some of the happiest people on the planet? Well, now you’ll know Costa Rica for something else: its animal conservation efforts. How, you ask? Through discouraging tourist selfies with wild animals.

Warning: there are some confronting animal selfies below – so best avoid reading further if you don’t want to see them.

Costa Rica is the leader when it comes to public consciousness around selfies with animals.

Instagram / @consoglobe

While it’s common to see a polite sign here and there in tourist spots asking visitors to be respectful of animals, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has now gone another step further by launching a social media campaign against the practice of taking selfies with wild animals. We probably shouldn’t be surprised – with 20 national parks, in addition to a bunch of reserves, animal refuges and protected areas, 26 percent of Costa Rica’s land is protected in the name of conservation. It only seems natural that Costa Rica would also pioneer a campaign on Insta under the simple hashtag #stopanimalselfies.

Chances are you’re probably, like us, wondering why the campaign isn’t using a Spanish hashtag.

Credit: giajurado / Instagram

The Costa Rican government are one step ahead: they know that the main offenders chasing wild animal selfies are English-speaking tourists, so they’re largely focusing their efforts on communicating with said English-speaking tourists.

“Our visitors must know the negative impact caused by selfies and photos showing direct contact with wild animals. Our goal and responsibility as global leaders in environmental issues is to educate and encourage new world ambassadors committed to wildlife protection,” said the Vice Minister of Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), Pamela Castillo, when asked about the initiative in an interview with CNN Travel.

It’s worth knowing that there are quite a number of reasons to refrain from taking selfies with wild animals. 

Credit: zoovarta / Instagram

The first, and biggest, reason to not take selfies with wild animals is that, because they’re not tame animals, they’ll likely freak out if you try to get close up and personal with them. Wild animals definitely don’t understand what the heck a selfie is, and trying to take one with them will likely endanger both you and the animal. Who’s to say that the wild animal won’t try to land a scratch on someone trying to get a selfie with it – and that person won’t try to defend themselves? And who’s to say that such a scratch won’t become infected? It’s a much better time on your vacation if you don’t get an infection.

Another thing to think about is that interaction with humans that really mess up a wild animal’s life.

Credit: saltyyrose / Instagram

For starters, it may scare the animals away from their natural habitat, which essentially risks scaring them away from reliable food sources and a safe environment. Traumatized animals may have trouble having babies – which can cause a decline in the animal population. These are all things we definitely want to avoid. Especially since Costa Rica is home to some species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Some people use the opportunity to make money at the expense of animals’ well-being.

Credit: da_cherry_bomb / Instagram

Possibly the worst thing to come out of the taking-selfies-with-wild-animals trend is that there are some less scrupulous humans who see it as a potential source of income. Yes, that means that they charge to get people up close and personal with unique animals. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these animals are well-cared for, or even tame, for that matter. They’re just kept in captivity for a quick buck. Yikes.

The good news is that there are alternatives available.

Credit: juan
Instagram / @juanvainasychibolo

Just because you can’t take a selfie with a wild animal doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get a photo with them. Animal rights group World Animal Protection has said that it’s a-OK to take a “selfie” with wild animals if you’re a safe distance from them. Think along the lines of a photo where you look like you’re photobombing from the front. Another two things that World Animal Protection has stipulated make for an ethical wildlife photo-taking are pictures where the animal is in its natural home, and is free to move. Basically, snaps of animals in the wild, undisturbed, just doing their thing, are totally fine.

On the other hand, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute has also offered alternatives to selfies with wild animals

Instagram / @jerryntaz

Juan Santamaría International Airport currently has a setup where you can take cute selfies with plushies. Not only will this mean that you can contribute to the movement of people avoiding animal exploitation, joining an ethical movement will also do so much more for your social media clout anyways.