Over the past few months, a spate of mysterious tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic has taken hold of the American consciousness. 12 eerily similar deaths in a year, with victims showing signs of possible poisoning? It was enough to make any sane person worry. Outlets (including UPROXX) tried to parse what caused the deaths, what it could mean for American tourism in the Dominican Republic, and what it could mean for international travel at large. Commenters wondered aloud: Is it safe to go to the Dominican Republic anymore? Should I cancel my trip? Where is safe to go?
Plenty of people were willing to write off the Dominican as dangerous, to cancel their trips and claim that you’d be a fool to risk it.
Another commenter wondered if a conspiracy was afoot: “Do you hear about the hotel staff dying? No! That shows you that something is wrong somebody is poisoning American guests and the Dominican government is covering up the wrong doings by embalming the bodies before shipping back to the states.”
Of course, a degree of worry is understandable, especially given the amount of coverage these deaths have garnered. But the collective reaction to this story raises the question: should you really be afraid of the DR? Is it any more dangerous than any other popular tourist destination, or is this fear just a matter of confirmation bias?
What does the data really show?
Americans are traveling more than ever before. In 2018, Americans made 93,038,257 trips outside of our borders, a 6.3 percent increase over 2017, according to the International Trade Administration. We’re visiting Mexico the most, followed by the European continent, Canada, and the Caribbean. In fact, we’re breaking records (and isolationist stereotypes) by leaving the country so much.
This may very well be why the news out of the DR terrifies people. After all, it’s not like we hear about Americans dying abroad elsewhere — at least not at such an alarming rate, right? There must be something seriously wrong.
Well, not exactly. According to the State Department’s data on U.S. Citizen Deaths Overseas, thousands of Americans have died while abroad every year. In fact, over a 10-year period from January 2009 to December 2018, 284 people died in Costa Rica, a country that has a reputation for being safe and welcoming to foreigners. Compare that to 208 deaths in the Dominican Republic in the same time period — and the fact that the Dominican receives far more American visitors year-over-year than Costa Rica — and already the idea that the Dominican is more dangerous than other locations becomes flimsy.