Travel Experts Talk Safety, Value and More in the Dominican Republic

If you want to convince travelers that the Dominican Republic is a safe place to vacation to, most advisors would agree that the best method is to visit for yourself and broadcast to the world the fabulous time you had.

And that's exactly what 14 top Caribbean travel specialists recently did.

Travel advisors and other industry experts were recently on hand in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for travAlliancemedia's travFORUM program, which invites top travel specialists around the globe to promote a destination via social media, one-on-one-interviews, a filmed roundtable discussion and other press.

The event was sponsored by Apple Leisure Group Vacations, the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana and travAlliancemedia.

Here’s what the agents and other industry representatives had to say about safety in the D.R., why the D.R. has perhaps the best value any Caribbean island has offered in years, why hosting an event like the travFORUM is the best way to combat fake news and more.

TravelPulse (TP): What is the most misunderstood thing about the D.R.?

Roshine Varghese (RV), co-owner of Travel Tom in Washington, D.C.: The issue of safety and crime in the Dominican Republic has been inflated in the news and makes visitors cautious, but safety should be a concern no matter where they are visiting. When the news first broke about the incidents that happened recently in the D.R., there were many assumptions made, but further investigation by the F.B.I. validated the findings by the D.R. authorities that all the tourists died of natural causes.

Patrycja Kobak (PK), an advisor with OK Travel Agency in Chicago: People don't understand that the media only reports on things that will bring in viewers, that will up their numbers. When we started hearing about issues in D.R., the media coverage was enormous. Every news outlet talked about people dying on the island. Once the F.B.I. announced the results of their investigation, there was hardly any media coverage on the topic. Why? Because it wasn't shocking enough and not breaking-news material.

Caitlyn Gambino (CG), owner of Aum Journeys in Michigan: The most misunderstood thing about the D.R. is that it's just a sun-and-fun destination and not a place for adventure, local culture, and immersive experiences. If more people were able to see the side of the D.R. that we did, I think people would stop regarding it as just a party destination full of all-inclusives and more of a unique cultural experience.

Brandon Smith (BS), sales manager at 417 Travel in Springfield, Missouri: The most misunderstood thing about the D.R. is that there isn’t as much to see and do outside of the resorts. The truth is there isn’t really a downtown to go to like there is in other islands or most Mexico destinations. However, over the past 10 years, I have seen more and more activities being added to the area from the Saona Island excursion, to the Outback [Adventures] safari and, most notably, Scape Park in Cap Cana.

Dan Callahan (DC), director of marketing/business development for travAlliancemedia: The most important thing I found out personally is that people mistakenly think it's not safe to leave the resort property. The people that live [in the D.R.] are some of the friendliest I’ve encountered in the Caribbean and they absolutely love tourists. Experiencing the real country by visiting the local towns is critical. By doing that in the D.R., we learned what most people who attended the travFORUM already knew: there is no safety concern going on in the D.R.

TP: Tell me who the perfect D.R. client is (be as specific as possible) and how can agents get that client to the D.R?

Molly Gay (MG), an advisor with BE The Travel in Nashville, Tennessee: The D.R. is great for people who are looking for that true all-inclusive, upbeat resort vibe and are looking for a great deal. The rates are unbeatable right now, and all of the resorts I’ve seen do a great job of taking care of their guests. I think the D.R. would be great for bachelor/bachelorette parties, groups or destination weddings.

Wendy Hoekwater (WH), Apple Leisure Group Vacations' senior vice president of marketing: The Dominican Republic is a destination for those seeking a destination wedding, amazing beaches, with the most incredible all-inclusive resorts, those seeking amazing cuisine that delivers on the culture of the country, family trips and multi-generation trips as the all-inclusive resorts have the rooms with the space to accommodate up to seven. Groups will enjoy the spirit and dedication from a service and culture perspective. The destination has a great vibe for all occasions of travel.

PK: There are resorts offering plenty of kid-friendly activities for families with children of all ages. People looking for active and/or party atmosphere won't have a problem finding the right place on the island. On the other hand, those looking for relaxation and serenity will have many wonderful choices as well.

RV: Our ideal client for the D.R. are honeymooners, bachelor/bachelorette groups, families, and brides and grooms who are looking to do a destination wedding.

Sheena Dersidan (SD), owner of IAMSHEGLOBAL, based in Los Angeles: The D.R. is perfect for those seeking a trip where they can be as busy or as lazy as they like. Mimosas and spa treatments followed by a day at the pool and a gourmet dinner under the stars can be had. An outback safari visiting local villages, sampling handmade products, followed by live music, drinks and dancing? That can be had too. The D.R. is a destination for everyone from couples to families to friends to retirees that are looking to maximize their experience and value of their vacation dollars in a stunning tropical destination.”

TP: Please talk more about all the value available to travelers heading to the D.R. right now. And why is a place that is the victim of false news usually the destination with the best value?

Paul Smith (PS), co-owner of the TravelSmiths in Point Pleasant, New Jersey: From a value perspective, I don’t think that there is a better spot for this Christmas holiday than the Dominican Republic. Hoteliers and tour operators are telling us that the properties are approximately 30 percent less this season. Book your place now, take your kids away for the holidays, and call TravelSmiths.

Jazmin Dore (JD), owner of Journeys By Jazmin: I think D.R. is the hottest most economical and safest destination right now. Let's face it, all eyes are on the D.R. currently, which means it is extra safe. In addition, costs are so affordable that it is a shame not to go. Most if not all resorts are on sale. I personally look at it as an opportunity to perhaps experience a higher-end resort because it is now more cost-effective. I think the value for the money is a no-brainer.

WH: Now is the time to experience the D.R. to it’s fullest. The deals have never been better, and add to that the opportunity to customize each trip with an experiential excursion, while enjoying the amazing beaches, warm hospitality and exclusive, nonstop flights, so you can get to the beach faster.

PK: D.R. prices have been amazing recently. The value offered by hotels and tour operators is incredible. To be able to book a family of four for a week-long vacation at a four-to-five-star all-inclusive resort, with nonstop flights and transportation included for under $3,000 in winter months is unheard of.

BS: The value in the D.R. is as good as I have seen it in the last 15 years while being a travel professional. I personally feel that news and media outlets should be held more accountable for telling the truth and present facts over clickbait headlines and misleading information.

TP: Did you have any concerns with the D.R. before visiting? And how important is it for your clients to see you in the destination, especially when it comes to convincing them that the destination is safe.

SD: Before visiting the D.R., I too was unsure about what was really going on and if it was, in fact, safe. I have my professional channels of receiving up-to-date information, but I still was unsure about what was true, especially having never visited the D.R. I think it's critically important for my clients that I, as their travel advisor, have personally traveled to the destination they are considering. It's an immediate added layer of trust and safety to be able to share my personal travel experience and insight with them.

Tranay Kelly (TK), an advisor with Royalty Escapes in New York City: Prior to going to the D.R. I had no concerns, but my clients did. After seeing all of my wonderful videos and pictures, they now feel safe enough to book travel again.

PK: I, personally, have not had any concerns before traveling to D.R. I was excited to be given this opportunity to show my clients that DR is safe and ready for visitors. My clients trust me and know that I would not go to a place where my safety could be compromised. And I would not recommend an unsafe place to my clients. By showing my clients, via social media, that I am traveling to D.R., and enjoying every moment of it, many of them are now ready to start planning their trips to Dominican Republic.

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TP: Tell me about the travFORUM in regards to its success in showing the D.R. off as a safe destination. Do you think the forum succeeded in these regards? What made you feel safe if you did?

WH: Our customer safety is our number one priority, and I experienced the D.R. during the travFORUM and felt very safe. From the moment I landed and was greeted by my Amstar transfer representative to the exclusive Outback [Adventures] safari excursion, and through our hotel site visits, the warm and welcome hospitality of the Dominican Republic was such a great experience. In addition, the amazing beaches make it a top destination for all types of travelers.

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DC: This forum showcased the best of the D.R. and just how safe it was. We went off-property through small towns and villages and also spent a lot of time at restaurants and bars inside of resorts. Though resorts and attractions had proactively boosted security measures, we had absolutely zero issues regarding safety, and I personally see no reason why anyone would hesitate in traveling there.

MG: I definitely think the travForum helped to show me a lot of what the D.R. has to offer. Even in just a short trip, we were able to see a variety of properties and also spend a half-day exploring the island and learning about the culture and history of Dominican people. I felt totally safe the entire time we were there, and I was so impressed with how warm and welcoming all of the people were. I could tell how genuinely grateful they were to us for being there, and how much pride they have in their country.

CG: When all of the people in each agent’s network see real-time photos on social media of their friend, family member, or go-to travel expert enjoying a beach, interacting with locals, and experiencing the destination firsthand, it makes an impression on them that simply isn't possible if they're seeing it on a news channel or magazine.

SD: The travFORUM was a wonderful opportunity to experience first hand how safe the D.R. is. It was invaluable to be able to put my own two feet on the ground, experience multiple resorts as well as local villages and see there is no better way to garner your own opinion than by traveling to a destination and experiencing it for yourself.

BS: I feel like the travFORUM was a success for myself and my business immediately. I was able to share socially many of the activities that we were invited to and participated in, and by the time I came back home to 417 Travel in Springfield, Missouri, I already had multiple requests for travel there. I’ve even booked several clients there in the last week.

For more information on the travFORUM program, visit the travFORUM website. And to see more of the attendees' recent experience at the travFORUM in the Dominican Republic on Instagram, follow hashtags #DRtravFORUM and #therealdr.