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.
In fact, let’s take a look at Europe. The continent is one of the most popular destinations for Americans traveling overseas, and you never really hear about the dangers of wandering around Münich or Milan, do you? Maybe you should. In the same 10-year span, 87 Americans died in France, 187 in Germany, and 89 in Italy. And what about our neighbors to the north? 150 Americans died in Canada over the course of 10 years.
France and Germany? Canada? Dangerous? Ha, don’t make us laugh. And yet… here is the proof in the pudding, right? Hundreds of deaths over the past decade, all in what most Americans consider safe countries, the causes ranging from drowning to homicide.
Perhaps we should put the kibosh on leaving the country all together?
That, of course, would be foolish. Almost as foolish as writing off an entire country — which hosts 2.1 million of us each year — for a dozen deaths. After all, with a large enough sample size, you’ll find alarming patterns just about anywhere. And while the similarities between these deaths is worthy of being explored, this also does not mean that the Dominican Republic should be written off as a travel destination.
One truth of travel is that it’s not sunshine and daisies, despite what social media may show. Life continues on, no matter where in the world you may be. And a part of life is death, no matter if you’re at home or on vacation. That means that sometimes people die when they’re abroad, no matter where they are.
It’s the circle of life, fam. It moves us all.