Dominican Republic: mystery or psychosis?

The mysterious deaths of several American tourists in the Dominican Republic over the past few months have negatively affected the destination’s tourist reputation and perceived security index. Hotels in the region have already started to feel the consequences and lowered their prices.

This week, the death of another American tourist, during or just after a vacation in a Dominican Republic resort, has been confirmed. According to American news sources, this is the tenth confirmed death in the past 13 months. The numbers are alarming although Dominican Republic authorities argue that there is no connection and that it is just an accumulation of fatal coincidences. Be that as it may, the reality is that the most recent known cases have generated growing media alarm in the North American country, causing the destination’s reputation to drop abruptly and affecting both bookings and hotel prices in the short and mid-term.

This is reflected in a study published by the Travel Intelligence consulting firm Mabrian Technologies, which measures the impact that these events have had on the destination’s Perceived Security Index. This indicator is calculated on the basis of spontaneous tourist mentions on Social Networks regarding a specific destination, more specifically by analysing and classifying the content and sentiment of these mentions via automated processes of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence. This approach enables Mabrian to measure and follow the evolution of visitors’ and potential visitors’ perceptions regarding a destination, by country or region of origin.

The study carried out between the 23rd June 2018 and the 23rd June 2019 based on the analysis of 1,25 million tourist mentions referring to the destination, clearly shows an overall drop in the Perceived Security Index for the Dominican Republic during the month of June, specifically for the United States market, which is the main one for the destination (approximately 60%).

The other important markets for the Dominican Republic (Canada, Argentina, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and Brazil) also show a drop in the security index although with different levels of sensitivity. Americans and Canadians are the two markets showing greater concern regarding this situation, which could be a result of the intense media coverage regarding the mysterious deaths. On the other hand, despite the destination’s image still being affected, Brazilian, Spanish and Italian tourists are the markets showing a lesser impact as a result of this crisis.

When taking a closer look at the main origin market, different levels of sensitivity were detected according to the State of origin. Regardless of the previous level of perceived security shown before June, visitors from the main States of origin in the USA show a loss of confidence towards the destination in terms of security. This has had a direct effect on the destination’s global satisfaction index.

The current situation already seems to be affecting demand for the destination, as is reflected in the average price evolution of the accommodation offer. Mabrian shows a year-on-year comparison of the evolution of average prices on offer for 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels in the Dominican Republic. The analysis shows an overall drop, of over 40% in some cases, of prices in 3- and 4-star accommodations (which make up 87% of all hotels), between July and September. In parallel, superior category accommodations do not seem to be affected, even showing in some cases an increase in price.

In light of this information, it appears that managers and businesses in the Dominican Republic’s main tourist destinations (namely Punta Cana, La Romana or Bayahibe) are facing an unprecedented crisis, either related to security or communication, which is negatively affecting the country’s main economic driver (7,600 million dollars in 2018). In view of this situation, it seems clear that an in-depth analysis of the data (Big Data) could help to delimit the problem and define guidelines to activate a contingency plan to improve the destination’s image, catered to the different sensitivities of the origin markets.

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