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Tourism Deaths Lead To Change In Plans

Bill Bryson, owner of Wheeling-based travel agency Uni-Globe Ohio Valley Travel, is trying to alleviate concerns after at least 10 Americans have died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic over the past year.

The deaths of at least 10 American tourists while vacationing in the Dominican Republic over the past year is prompting travelers across the country to cancel their reservations to the island country, but Wheeling travel agent Bill Bryson is trying to alleviate concerns while helping his customers find other summer destinations.

Nearly two dozen customers with plans to travel to the Dominican have asked Bryson’s Wheeling-based travel agency Uni-Globe Ohio Valley Travel to alter their accommodations in the last two or three weeks.

“If people call, we don’t try to change their minds,” Bryson said. “We accommodate their vacation request.”

Bryson and his staff are “trying to educate people to make their best decisions” with the latest issues in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, but he said television news reports have turned the situation into a “media feeding frenzy” that has scared would-be travelers. He noted other situations, including illnesses on cruise liners, have frightened the public in the past, but should not be overly worrisome for tourists.

He said most of the 10 deaths were ruled natural, but the mystery surrounding a few of them has raised concerns from some of his customers.

A Maryland couple, Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Day, 49, were found dead in their hotel room in La Romana on May 30 and are believed to have died from respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, according to a preliminary autopsy, although U.S. authorities are now investigating their deaths.

The cause of death was the same for Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Allentown, Pa., who died at a different hotel at the same resort complex five days earlier. The cause of death for California resident Robert Bell Wallace, 67, who died in April at a hotel in Punta Cana, is still under investigation by local authorities.

Bryson tried to put the numbers in perspective, noting that 3.2 million tourists visit the Dominican Republic annually. He said they’ve answered other questions in the past, such as violence in Mexico.

“It’s an unknown in a foreign country,” he said.

He understands concerns from travelers, but wants to also educate his customers regardless of where they travel. It takes time for the staff to make changes, but they want to ensure customers are happy with their vacations, he said.

“We try to tell people the same thing wherever they go: Use caution. If you’re going to a beach and staying on group tours at a resort, you’re safe,” Bryson said. “Stay on the main street (while shopping). There’s no deals four blocks away in someone’s backyard.”

Jim Garrity, a spokesman for AAA in Pittsburgh, said the national organization is also working with its clients to reschedule travel plans, if needed

“This is really one of those moments it’s good to have a travel agent so they can tell you what to be aware of and offer other options,” Garrity said.

Mexico, Dominica Republic and Jamaica are the most popular Caribbean destinations because of their affordability, Bryson said. All-inclusive vacations on other islands in Caribbean, which can be twice the cost, and trips to Florida or on cruises are the most reliable alternatives, he said.

“There are a lot of other options,” Bryson said. “Go somewhere that you feel comfortable. You don’t want to be worried or uncomfortable on your vacation.”

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