Recent media coverage of "mysterious" tourist deaths in the Dominican Republichas led many Americans to second guess or even cancel their travel plans to the Caribbean nation and has sent the country's tourism industry reeling.

However, lost amid the hype is the fact that Americans are more likely to be killed in a homicide in the U.S. than die of unnatural causes in the Dominican Republic, according to U.S. State Department statistics reported by CNN.


​While the Caribbean hotspot saw a sizable 7.9 percent increase in U.S. visitors between 2017 and 2018 the number of Americans who died of unnatural causes in the Dominican Republic dropped from 17 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

Last year, the odds of an American tourist dying unnaturally in the Dominican Republic was just 0.58 per 100,000. Citing Pew Research Center figures taking into account data from the FBI, CNN reported the rate of murders, homicides and non-negligent manslaughter in the U.S. was 5.3 per 100,000 as recently as 2017. That figure jumps significantly in places like Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis.

​"We have unequivocally shown that there is not an avalanche of deaths of American tourists in the country and it is not true that there are mysterious deaths," Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism, Francisco Javier Garcia said during a recent press conference with national and international media.

"Our priority in the Dominican Republic is the safety of tourists, and increasingly, measures are applied to guarantee it," he added, noting that the U.S. State Department has called the recent coverage of deceased tourists exaggerated.


The Dominican Republic remains at a Level 2 (exercise increased caution) on the State Department's travel advisory, putting it on par with many popular international destinations that most Americans wouldn't think twice about visiting, including the Bahamas, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Spain, Turks and Caicos and the United Kingdom.

Both the Bahamas and Jamaica actually have higher rates of unnatural American deaths compared to the Dominican Republic, according to State Department data.

What's more, the Level 2 advisory for the Dominican Republic is due to the threat of crime and is unrelated to the recent reports involving tourist deaths. The State Department hasn't updated its advisory since April 15.

Nonetheless, data from ForwardKeys shows that cancellations for summer flights from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic are way up while summer bookings are down dramatically. Delta Air Lines even cited "recent events in Punta Cana" in issuing a travel advisory allowing passengers to reschedule or cancel their flights without incurring additional fees.


​"When you look at the map of the island and see that these things happened all around, to conflate that they all are connected is a bit of a stretch, to be frank. So that should give you some comfort," TravelPulse founder and CEO Mark Murphy told Fox Business earlier this month. "If 8 million Americans have traveled to the Dominican Republic in the last four years alone, I'd feel pretty confident."

It's not pleasant, but it is an inevitable part of travel: delays. And worse, even, than sitting in an airport waiting for your delayed flight to finally begin boarding is when you've made it all the way onto the plane, squeezed yourself into your tiny seat, buckled up and then you just ... wait. And wait and wait.

In spite of the voice over the intercom optimistically informing passengers that they should "sit tight" because "we'll be on our way soon," soon never seems to arrive, leaving patience to wane and tempers to fray. If you've been sitting on the tarmac for more than than hour, you might start to seriously think about just getting off the plane. But is that really an option?


​Actually, yes. Although you'll need to sit tight for a little longer. U.S Department of Transportation regulations state that "airlines are required to begin to move the airplane to a location where passengers can safely get off before three hours (of delay) for domestic flights and four hours for international flights."

Weigh your decision carefully though, as airlines are not required to let you back on once the flight is ready to depart, and you might end up separated from your luggage: "The airline may not be required to offload any passenger’s checked bags before the plane takes off," the DOT states. "Passengers will need to contact the airline about returning their checked luggage at a later time."

Should you choose to wait it out, you won't go hungry or thirsty, according to the DOT. "Airlines must provide you with a snack, such as a granola bar, and drinking water no later than two hours after the aircraft leaves the gate (in the case of a departure) or touches down (in the case of an arrival)." There are no federal requirements for an airline to financially compensate passengers, but many will do so anyway, so don't be afraid to ask, politely.


​Surprisingly, considering they meet the very basic level of humanity, such regulations are fairly new. Following a few highly publicized cases in 2008 and 2009 in which people were trapped on planes for hours, the DOT to mandated the new rules in 2011. And it takes them seriously. When Southwest broke the law in 2014, the DOT fined it $1.6 million.

Nevertheless, flyers' rights advocates are concerned that the Trump administration may roll back the tarmac delay regulations (along with others). Last year, reported The Los Angeles Times, the DOT temporarily froze all pending airline-industry regulations as part of an administration push to cut the burden of red tape on American businesses. And it asked the public and airlines for comments on existing regulations that could be halted, revised or repealed.

"Many of the regulations/initiatives adopted or issued at the end of the previous administration are extremely costly, will be unduly burdensome on the airline industry, and should be repealed or permanently terminated," United Airlines said in its statement filed with the DOT.

Consumers' groups are not convinced. "The airlines are pretty clear that they want every consumer protection law repealed or not enforced," Paul Hudson, president of the nonprofit group Flyersrights.org, told The L.A. Times in March. "I'm concerned that they would try to repeal the few consumer-protection regulations that are out there." 

What Recent Travelers to the Dominican Republic Are Saying About Safety

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A LOT of them were due to "odor events."


​If you watch the news at all (you shouldn’t, by the way), you probably feel like there are reports of airplane emergency landings every single day. Debilitating turbulence! Landing gear failure! Angry passengers threatening to kill everyone on board! (That one happened pretty recently.) Honestly, the deluge of information could make a nervous flier out of pretty much anyone.

But listen, it’s not as bad as it seems. We consulted Aviation’s Global Incident Map of 2017 (January 1 through December 26) and reviewed each and every recorded emergency landing of a passenger plane in the U.S. The good news: There were only 185 emergency landings total in the domestic U.S. out of an estimated 9.7 million flights — all of which concluded without incident. That’s a nerves-alleviating 0.00002 percent chance of having an emergency landing.

Even more relieving: The majority of those emergency landings were caused by weird-yet-innocuous odors or smells. Why is a smell worthy grounding a plane? Well, it’s a combination of taking precautionary measures, easing passengers’ fears, and avoiding odor-induced illness. (One American Airlines flight famously landed because a passenger “passed gas,” causing other fliers to become nauseous, according to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.)

The Facts Behind Traveler Safety in the Dominican Republic

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A Louisiana woman has been sentenced to nine years in prison for her role in selling bogus vacation packages to the Essence Festival in New Orleans.

Nakesia Washington, of Harvey, La., received a 15-year sentence with six years suspended after she admitted scamming 98 tourists – all from out of state – over $80,000.


​Operating through her agency, OBL Travel, Washington sold vacation packages that included festival tickets, VIP passes and hotel rooms. Airfare apparently was not included, so when the tourists arrived in New Orleans they found no tickets, no passes, no lodging – and no Nakesia Washington.

WVUE-TV reported that Washington pleaded guilty Wednesday, July 3. State District Judge Ellen Shrier Kovach sentenced her and ordered her to pay restitution. A restitution hearing is scheduled July 11.


​The Essence Fest is one of the premier music festivals in the country. Started in 1995 as a one-time event to honor the 25th anniversary of Essence Magazine, the festival has been a staple of African-American culture and music ever since.

Earlier this year, a Florida woman and her friends were scammed by a fake travel agency.

It's just another reminder to make sure you find a trusted travel agent and take the necessary steps to make sure you avoid being scammed.

Passenger Dresses in Layers to Avoid Airline Baggage Fee

After Iran shot down an unmanned drone operated by the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned all American carriers and commercial operators from flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

According to ABCNews.com, the FAA issued the notice-to-airman late Thursday, which applies to all air carriers and commercial operators in the United States, but not U.S.-registered planes for foreign airlines.


​In addition, foreign airlines such as British Airways, Qantas, Lufthansa and KLM have announced they will also avoid the area as a precaution.

“All flight operations in the overwater area of the Tehran Flight Information Region (FIR) (OIIX) above the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman only are prohibited until further notice due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” FAA officials said in a statement.

ABC News also reported U.S. President Donald Trump initially ordered a military strike against Iran Thursday, but reversed course on the decision. The tensions were elevated after Iran shot down a RQ-4A Global Hawk drone flying in international airspace.

Officials in Iran said the drone was flying over its airspace when it was downed.

Google Maps Will Now Tell You How Crowded Your Train or Bus Will Be

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Which Purses Pickpockets Love To Pick

So you get to the airline counter to check your luggage, only to be told your bag is five pounds overweight. Sorry. Now, in addition to the baggage fee, you need to pay the penalty for being overweight.

No way, said one man traveling on EasyJet.

John Irvine was told his bag was eight kilograms (about 17 pounds) overweight when he checked in for his flight, necessitating a fee. Irvine, from Scotland, decided otherwise.

He opened the suitcase and put on 17 pounds worth of clothing – some 15 shirts in all on a day when the weather was 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Irvine family had been traveling back from Nice, France to Edinburgh, Scotland when son Josh filmed his father piling on the clothing and posted it on Twitter saying his dad was ‘sweating’.


​“We were coming home back to Bearsden, Glasgow from France on Saturday night and we never thought we’d be over the weight limit by eight kilos,” the 17-year old told Metro.co.uk. “He did not want to pay EasyJet charges. The lassie at the counter asked us if we wanted to pay extra but my dad just looked up at her and said ‘Hen, watch this,’ and zipped open the suitcase and quickly flung on about 15 jumpers to help cut down the weight.”

Josh Irvine said his ribs hurt from laughing so much, and it only got better.

Or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Once his father put all the clothes on at once, his issues at the counter were over but problems at security were just beginning.

“They thought he was trying to smuggle something under all his clothes,” Josh said. “Thankfully we got through eventually.”

Report: China Forcing Tourists To Download Tracking Software

Other non-alarming causes of emergency landings include minor mechanical issues (think: a spilled soft drink on an electrical outlet), broken bathrooms (like this Delta flight from New York City to Seattle that made an emergency landing in Billings, Montana because the plane’s bathrooms had stopped functioning and passengers “couldn’t hold it any longer,”) and a lithium battery laptop that started burning a passenger’s backpack en route to SFO.

With all of that said, emergency landings should still be taken seriously. Our point is simply that they happen very rarely, and when they do, they’re rarely a true emergency, like a loss of cabin pressure or engine failure. So feel free to relax, recline, and enjoy your flight.

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Paris Deputy Mayor Says Tour Buses Are 'No Longer Welcome' in the City Center

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Finding a pickpocket-proof purse for travel  is a smart investment for keeping your valuables secure and your first line of defense against pickpockets. Read on to learn how pickpockets operate and which purses thieves like to steal from the most. Pickpocket proof purses  easily foil would be thieves with hidden built-in anti-theft features to help keep your valuables safe.

 The most important features of a good travel purse

Locking zippers
Locking zipper pulls lockdown with a clip to the bag to keep pickpockets from pulling them open and lifting your valuables out.
Detachable strap
The end of the bag strap unclips from the bag and re-attaches to it after threading it through a chair back or another item to prevent grab and go thefts.
Slash-proof and crossbody strap
The safest and most convenient style of bag is a cross body bag that you wear from one shoulder to opposite hip. A thin flexible wire embedded in the strap makes it slash-resistant to thieves who cut bag straps and then run off with the bag.
Slash proof sides and bottoms
Bag sides and bottoms are the most vulnerable places on your bag for a bag cutter to slice open and pull out your valuables.
RFID blocking material
Look for a pocket lined with RFID blocking material to protect your ID from e-pickpockets.

The Type of Victims Pickpockets Like to Target

Pickpockets look for people who are either distracted or can be easily distracted. People on cell phones, with children, in groups, or others who just aren’t paying enough attention to the people around them often become victims. Tourists are prime targets. Another favorite target is those who set their bag down, even right next to themselves, for a grab and go theft. You can’t always be vigilant, especially when sight-seeing, but you can use anti-theft gear to help thwart thieves and for your peace of mind.


​Purses That Pickpockets Love to Pick and Steal From


​Avoid These Styles of Purses


​The drawstring purse is one of the easiest styles for pickpockets to steal from. Some thieves call it “the pickpocket’s best friend.”  Why is this? Simple mechanics really, in many cases drawstring purses are backpacks, which make the removing of items from within even simpler. These bags work by pulling the strings tighter to close the bag and loosening them to open it. Even the most novice thief can remove the wallet from one of these bags. All a thief needs to do is grip the drawstring of the purse and pull down gently, which gets them into the bag. There is no sound when they open the bag, and very little movement is involved which is great since it will leave the victim, or mark, which is the name some professional pickpockets call a victim, completely unaware that a thief just stole their wallet. Usually, the thief and your wallet are long gone before you discover the wallet missing.


​Flap Purse The most beloved type of bag for a pickpocket. This type of purse usually contains one large pouch, covered by a flap that often has just a magnet style closure. They come in all shapes and sizes, but thieves usually prefer the medium and larger sized ones. The flap purse is still vulnerable even with a button or latch closure. A thief can get close enough to gently but firmly grip the button of the flap with his thumb and index finger and undo it, using his thumb to mask the sound. With a quick motion of the hand,  the prized wallet is in his hand.


Zippered Purse  You think this may be a secure style of bag, well it is, and it’s a bit more difficult than a flap purse to breach,however, this style can be simple for a skilled thief to conquer as well. A good thief can easily slide a zipper open without the wearer feeling it.  A thief will also try to distract you from noticing your zipper being unzipped – they will bump into you, distract you with a question, or use an accomplice to find another way to divert your attention. It only takes 2 seconds. Zipper bags vary and sometimes have multiple pouches, so a thief will often watch to see in which compartment the wallet is placed. The best pocket to carry a wallet in iss in a zippered pocket in the main compartment of the bag and on the side of the purse closest to the body.  Find an anti-theft zipper travel purse right for you. 


​Clutch Purse This style can be tricky for thieves to pickpocket and it may not have a wallet inside due to its smaller size. That’s the good news. The bad news is once it is out of your hand, for even a second, the entire handbag is taken. This is a risky style to carry.

Side Flap A side flap purse is usually a medium to small purse that has one large compartment and one flap to close it up. This means one thin piece of fabric is all that is between your wallet and a thief, who can simply place his thumb over the clasp and then unbutton it. The real reason as to why this is on the list is because of the fact that while walking this type of purse tends to “slide” to the back of your hip, placing it right in front of a thief.


​Shoulder Bag (one you can’t wear crossbody)Depending on the bag sometimes the top of this kind of purse is left open with no clasp, meaning your wallet is vulnerable, especially if there is enough room at the top to slide a hand into the bag. Otherwise, an enterprising thief can use a box cutter to cut open the back of the bag and remove your wallet through the slit. Stealing a cell phone from this kind of bag is a snap since the pouch for it is usually on the bag exterior. Avoid this style of bag for travel unless it has built-in anti-theft features and the bag strap is long enough to wear it crossbody.


Fixed Bags


​Fanny Pack This style of bag can be just as easy as picking a pocket!  A good thief will simply press up against the victim, unbuckle the pack from the rear, and pass the fanny pack on to someone else. Sometimes, much like with wallets, the mark will still “feel” the bag on their body so they won’t even know that they have been victimized. Often thieves look for bags worn slightly to either side, then, masking their hand, slowly unzip the large compartment and remove the cash or wallet.

On the flip side, a fanny pack or waist pack is also a great way to carry your camera and other items you don’t want to put in your pocket or carry by hand. It’s all about choosing the right style of anti-theft waist pack  that will provide hands-free freedom and security of valuables. The best security waist pack have locking zippers to stop a pickpocket from the waist pack, wire embedded into the back strap to stop someone from cutting the rear strap from behind, as well as metal mesh embedded into the material to stop bag cutters. All these anti-theft features guard your gear and give you peace of mind. Choose a style right for your needs.


​Backpacks/Daypacks  A thief really needs two things to handle backpacks, proximity and the ability to find the wallet quickly. Many daypacks have a drawstring and a button, and pickpockets will often look for one with the button undone. Don’t travel with this type of bag. The best travel backpacks have zippers which lock down plus other anti-theft features. You really need to travel with one e of these newer styles with a full suite of anti-theft features.


Back Pack Purse Here is another pickpocket’s dream come true, a woman’s purse completely beyond her field of vision. Most backpack purses open with a clasp, same as a flap purse, but there are some with straps or both. A pickpocket will wait until the victim is right in front of him and then gently unbuckle the strap or loosen the drawstring, which will open the purse wide. If done gently and quick enough, the mark won’t notice because the back has fewer nerve endings than anywhere else.

Small Backpack Thieves also favor small backpacks because they are easy to open when out of the wearer’s sight. The lack of contact with the body and the lower density of nerves in the back make these bags an appealing target. It’s also easier to find the wallet quickly since it is a smaller area to search through. Security style backpacks for women and men

Unattended Bags A thief will consider any unattended bag fair game. The most common places for women to leave their bags unattended are in grocery stores, in restaurants, and in theaters. This is where using the strap to attach the bag to the cart handle, chair arm or chair back comes in handy.


​Pockets

Jacket Pockets Anything of value seen hanging out of a jacket pocket will soon vanish, and the most tempting item is loose cash. Wallets are just as easily plucked out, as well as cell phones or anything else that might be there. Our advice, don’t place valuables in pockets that are visible.

Back Pockets This is the sucker pocket, and anything carried in a back pocket is easily stolen. This is a favorite pocket for phones and wallets. Don’t use it, especially in a crowd. Use your front pants pocket. Even better, use a money belt tucked under your shirt.

Top Scams Pickpockets Use to Steal Purses

Kick the Purse When a woman sits down at a table or bar she’ll often set her bag on a nearby chair or on the floor beside of her. If it’s on the floor, a thief may wait until she is engrossed in either talking or eating. The purse thief will then casually walk past her table and gently kick the purse away from the table. Then he’ll pick it up and tuck it away or if the thief is a female, sling it over her shoulder as if it is hers. Small bags are usually taken this way.


​Gas Station Ruse Many women fall victim to theft at gas stations. Their car is usually unlocked while pumping gas and they typically face the pump, not watching their valuables inside the vehicle. Thieves have perfected a few rip-offs at gas stations. The first is simply to open a woman’s car door while she is looking at the pump. The second is to steal her bag while she runs in quickly to pay. The third is to involve her in a distraction, either trouble with the pump, or to ask for directions. While she is distracted an accomplice steals the bag from the car.

The Swarm A team of crooks target works a crowded section of the city that is full of tourists. The crooks know the escape routes and the areas that distract tourists most such as a famous building, fountain, etc. Spreading out from key vantage points, one will alert the other when a mark is spotted. The engrossed tourist won’t even know what hit him he consults a map or takes a photo. In a flash, a few people will bump into him talking loudly, and the next thing he knows his wallet, travel bag, or passport is stolen.

The Mommy Set Up A thief thinks of taking your possessions as a job. He probably tells himself that anyone who would be careless with their money or purse or wallet doesn’t deserve them. Some of them target playground areas where mothers take their children. The purse thief will look for two moms talking, and do something to make the children cry. Maybe take the child’s ball or throw sand on them. They know the mother’s instinct for her child is greater than for her purse or shopping bags. Once the mom or moms rush over, the thieves will help himself to their wallet or bags, fading quickly out of sight.

Restroom Snatch Have you ever noticed that purse hooks in restrooms are up high on the door? This gives easy access for a female thief to reach over the stall and be gone before you can react; throwing your purse over her shoulder like it belongs to her. Another alternative is to take the wallet out, quickly throw the purse back over the stall, to startle the woman. Thirdly, a female thief can place the stolen purse into a larger store shopping bag, and walk nonchalantly among the shoppers of a mall and not be identified.

Out of the Blue Densely populated cities, especially in Italy, are known for the occasional but shocking slash and grab theft from mopeds or bikes. The riders look for a woman walking near the edge of the sidewalk with her purse on her shoulder closest to the street.  As the thief drives by the victim from behind, he grabs the purse off her shoulder and speeds away.  Some thieves have been known to have an accomplice who rides on the back of the motorbike, and it is their job to complete the purse snatching, leaving the driving to the other thief.  In some shocking cases, they even use a knife to slash the strap. The key to this type of theft is finding a woman walking with the flow of traffic, and not facing it, so she cannot anticipate a thief riding a bike up from behind her.  See the best selection of security travel purses and handbags to help you keep your possessions secure

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What Time of Day Should I Book My Flight?


​According to urban legend, you should buy on Tuesday mornings because airlines dump new fares and seat allocations on Monday nights. It’s also rumored that travelers shouldn’t buy on weekends, as consumers lap up the seats allocated to the lowest fare buckets on Saturdays and Sundays, leaving less low-priced inventory.

Here’s what George Hobica, founder of our sister site Airfarewatchdog, says: “No one can accurately predict where airfares are heading any more than we can predict the stock market.”

Hobica’s blog points to a quote from an airline revenue manager on the subject: “To say that there is one time of the day or one day of the week that is better than another is false. Plus, fares are so dynamic, since they are based on market conditions and the actual number of passengers who are currently booked on a specific flight, that they can change rapidly at any time.”


​But the manager goes on to contradict himself a little bit: “Many airlines tend to announce sales on a Monday, leading other airlines to match certain fares the following day, but this is not a hard and fast rule.”

A few days before 45-year-old South Carolinian, Kimberly Terre, her best friend and her two elderly parents were set to take off to the Majestic Mirage Punta Cana hotel in the Dominican Republic, news outlets across the country were reporting mysterious deaths in the destination.

When Terre’s 82-year-old mother and father wanted to cancel, she called her travel agent, Vicki Briggs, owner and adviser of Briggs World Travel in Virginia, to see how she should handle the dilemma.

“She just said that she knows everything is good, but her parents are getting concerned and what do I think, and what I should say to them,” said Briggs. “I told her I just left the resort they are staying at and it's safe. It’s been safe in the past and it was safe two weeks ago when I was there.”

And that was all it took.


Once Terre relayed the message and convinced her parents the destination and the resort were safe, they continued on with their planned vacation to Punta Cana.

But not everyone is convinced the destination is safe, as a new report said ticket sales have dropped to the Dominican Republic while refunds have increased.

And that’s the difference between people who are getting their information from sensationalized news outlets and those who are getting their information from travel professionals, especially the ones who just returned from the destination like Briggs and Terre.


​“We never felt unsafe at the resort,” said Terre. “We ate at all of the restaurants and never got sick. My parents even have some food issues and they were fine.”


​And Terre said she is happy she trusted her travel advisor over the news her and her friend were hearing in the days leading up to their trip.

Juanita Terre (left) and her daughter, Kimberly Terre, enjoy their recent vacation at the Majestic Mirage Punta Cana. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Terre)

“We would read the news and it just seemed sensationalized,” said Terre. “It just seemed like they were talking about a couple of different, unrelated issues and turning it into one, really big thing. And then it just seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork and saying they were there a year ago and got sick.”

But Briggs told TravelPulse she completely understood Terre’s parents’ concerns and also noted that all travelers should be concerned when they hear alarming news about a destination they are heading to, but they should get the facts from a travel consultant before panicking and canceling.

“I completely understood though,” said Briggs. “When you are 80 years old, you don’t want to put yourself in danger. But I explained that I wasn’t just at the resort before, I was there only a couple of weeks before their vacation. Saying it’s safe is one thing, but if you were just there, that’s another.”

And that’s why travel advisor Susan Collins-Peavy, owner of Susan Peavey Travel in Massachusetts, shouldn’t have a problem selling the destination since she was just there two weeks ago.

Collins-Peavy, who stayed at Casa de Campo, said it was important for her to visit the destination in order to get ahead of the panic.

“I talked to guests at the hotel and everyone was having an amazing time,” she told TravelPulse. “I ate and drank from the mini-bar and had no issues. The people in the D.R. were so welcoming. I really hope the media stops. They are really hurting the economy of this beautiful country.”

But the news is only damaging if there isn’t an agent there to separate truth from exaggeration.

Tom Varghese, owner of Travel Tom, told TravelPulse he recently had a destination wedding of 100 people at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. He said it was booked over a year ago, but negative Dominican Republic press started to surface just before the June 1 trip. Although no one in the party ever expressed concerns, he said other clients recently have.

And when someone expresses concern, he said he shows them statistics that show the millions of visitors who travel to the Dominican Republic every year compared to the low number of incidences.

"It is not my job to tell someone where to go, it is my job to show them the facts," Varghese said. "I'm not going to put my neck and reputation on the line by sending someone to somewhere unsafe."

Joshua Rodriguez, 37, of New York City, also did a little celebration travel in Punta Cana, recently celebrating his 37th birthday at the Grand Bahia Principe Punta Cana with his girlfriend. He said he was never concerned before, during or after his trip.

And it’s not a coincidence he too used a travel advisor.

“Our experience was great. It’s a beautiful island,” he told TravelPulse. “Just err on the side of caution. Just don’t do anything you don’t want to do, anything that doesn’t feel safe. Always have a cautious mind. I would certainly go back to Punta Cana and I would stay at the same resort again.”

And since pesticide poisoning is one theory being thrown out there by the media for the cause of death of a couple staying at the Bahia Principe resort around late May, we asked Rodriguez if he saw any unusual spraying at the hotel. After all, although Rodriguez wasn’t staying at the same exact hotel, he was staying at the same brand, Bahia Principe.

“I didn’t see tons of spraying or anything,” he said. “We definitely saw the grounds crew maintaining everything, and spraying bushes and flowers, but not on an everyday basis. I’ve been telling people I’m sure things do happen and I’m not sure what the reason is, but we recently went there and neither of us got sick.”

And travelers like Rodriguez and Terre, who continue to spread the word of Punta Cana’s safety, are the ones that will eventually help defuse a lot of the unwarranted panic, said Briggs.

“It makes my job easier having clients like [Terre]. Clients like that value an agent’s opinion," she said. "At first, maybe some clients are scared off, but then they talk to a travel agent and realize a lot of it is hysteria."

Things are really popping off at Yellowstone National Park.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Steamboat Geyser, located inside the famed national park at the Norris Geyser Basin, in Park County, Wyoming, is well on its way to having a record-setting year for eruptions. As CNN noted, we are only halfway through 2019, but the geyser has already erupted 25 times. To put that number into perspective, in all of 2018 the geyser erupted a mere 32 times.

The USGS reported that the geyser erupted seven times in June alone — on June 1, 7, 12, 15, 19, 23, and 28.


​But, as a tourist, please don’t visit the park and this geyser thinking you’ll see a show put on by Mother Nature. According to the experts, there is just no way to predict when an eruption will occur..

"They're mostly random and experience phases of alternating eruptive activity," Michael Poland, the USGS scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, told CNN.

Poland also explained that while it’s interesting that the geyser is exploding so often there is no need to worry. "While fascinating, it's not unusual, nor cause for concern,” he said.


​As to why the geyser is so active this year, experts simply don’t know as it remains one of Earth’s great mysteries.

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Paris’s deputy mayor said in an interview this week that he wants to remove all tour buses from the city center.

Emmanuel Grégoire told Le Parisien he isn’t waiting for the French capital to reach the overtourism levels of Venice or Barcelona. He hopes to nip growing tourism numbers in the bud by banning large buses from the city center and redirecting tourists to other destinations in the city.

“Tourist buses are no longer welcome in the city center,” Grégoire said in the interview. “Tourists can be like everyone else and use gentler means of transportation or public transit.”

The giant buses drive through the center of Paris, mostly along the Seine, to pick up and deposit tourists at the city’s major sites: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame cathedral.


The deputy mayor is exploring the possibility of creating a “parking desert” in the city center so the large coaches will have to park further away from Paris’s main monuments.

Grégoire also spoke about how Airbnb rentals are driving up rent prices in certain neighborhoods.

Paris is far from the only destination to implement efforts against overtourism this year. Earlier this year, New Zealand announced a new tourism tax that would fund sustainability and infrastructure projects to keep visitation from ruining the environment. And Indonesia’s Komodo Island announced that it would temporarily close to protect its Komodo Dragons, which people kept stealing from the island.

Last year, the European Parliament proposed a committee dedicated to studying overtourism and its effect on locals.

For at least two decades, industry experts have been speculating about basic timing factors in finding the lowest airfares. The big question: When is the best time to buy plane tickets? So far, nobody has been able to come up with definitive answers that stand the test of time for very long. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. There are numbers-based guidelines touted by travel experts. And there are tools and data that can help you ascertain the right time to buy. Here’s the latest information on mastering the art of airfare booking.


How Far in Advance Should I Book My Flight?

The new feature will work in over 200 cities around the world. 


​Squeezing sardine-like into a train with hundreds of other commuters is never enjoyable — but thanks to Google Maps, you’ll now have the wherewithal to shift your departure to avoid the crowds. The app’s new feature, which launches Thursday, July 4, allows travelers to see in advance how busy their train, subway, or bus will be before they even leave the house.


​According to Mashable, the tool, which was first tested in Sydney, Australia in October, will have data for 200 cities around the world, including 46 U.S. metro areas. New York City, Portland, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area all made the list.

Like the app’s store and restaurant predictions, which tell people when locations will be busiest, the new transportation feature utilizes user data pulled during the busy 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. commute to determine when routes will be the most crowded. When you plug your destination into Google Maps, the new feature will also let you know how likely it is that you’ll be sitting or standing for the upcoming ride.


​The Google Map feature for buses includes real-time delays and arrivals for public buses in each of the 200 cities. 

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When Should You Buy Your Flight?

What Are Some Other Ways to Get Fare Alerts?


​You can get fare alerts directly from your favorite carrier. Many airlines offer weekly or periodic email notifications of special sales and other useful information. It’s a good idea to set up alerts from an airline with which you frequently fly, especially if you collect miles.

Many OTAs and metasearch systems also offer regular airfare-deal bulletins, including the two giants, Expedia and Priceline.

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THE CALL GOES OUT: RE-DESIGN NOTRE DAME'S SPIRE

Royal Caribbean International revealed more details about the $97-million overhaul of its Voyager of the Seas ship, which is set to sail this fall.

Starting October 21, Voyager of the Seas will offer a series of three- to five-night Southeast Asia itineraries from Singapore. The transformed ship will then sail nine- to 12-night South Pacific cruises from Sydney, Australia, starting on November 30.


​When it sets sail, Voyager of the Seas will feature the Perfect Storm waterslides duo Typhoon and Cyclone, which joins other can't-miss attraction such as the FlowRider surf simulator, rock-climbing wall and mini-golf.

Families boarding the Royal Caribbean ship will have new and reimagined experiences, including Battle for Planet Z laser tag, a revamped Adventure Ocean area for younger children and an exclusive hangout for teens.

For passengers looking to relax, the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center will offer its extensive menu of services, including massages, acupuncture, manicures, fitness classes and personal training.

More highlights to make their way to Voyager include 72 new inside and balcony staterooms, a Suite Lounge and outdoor area and the Diamond Lounge for members of Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program.

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When Do Plane Tickets Go on Sale?


​The best time to buy an airline ticket is when it’s on sale; that means you have to stay on top of the airline marketplace. Airfare sales crop up at random times. Typically, the purchase window is short—sometimes just one day, often a few days to a week—but the sale fares are usually good for a month or more.

As Hobica puts it, “Pounce when there’s a deal.” And remember: With almost all U.S. airlines, you can cancel your ticket within 24 hours of booking at no charge. Even if you’ve already bought your fare, you can keep looking for a better offer within that 24-hour window.

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Several sources publish data on the correlation between advance purchase period and airfares. The ideal time to buy a domestic ticket is 54 days in advance, says CheapAir, or seven weeks ahead, says Expedia, which are essentially the same findings. For international trips, the ideal period is 171 days ahead of departure, according to the same Expedia report. CheapAir refines the estimates: 96 days before trips to Europe and 96 days prior to Latin America trips. Both sources indicate that you can come close to the absolute lowest price over a wide range of dates: CheapAir’s “window” for good deals on domestic tickets is 27–114 days in advance; Expedia’s window is 50–100 days.

Avoid booking too early and too late. Too late is especially bad; you pay a huge premium for buying within a week or two of departure—even on airlines that nominally assess no advance-purchase limit.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Using a Hotel Hair Dryer

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Dr. Osvaldo A. Perez, at your service!

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The Dominican Republic has made headlines recently, and not in a good way. The Caribbean country — which draws in over 2 million visitors from the U.S. each year, making it one of the biggest tourist markets in the region — has experienced an alarming trend in the past year: 10 Americans have died while on vacation here in the past year. The circumstances of each case is still undetermined, and the incidents have understandably left many travelers concerned about booking a trip to the country. 


The New York Times and the Washington Post reported that a few of the deceased (whose ages range from 41 to 67) died from heart and respiratory failure, though toxicology reports are currently being analyzed, and investigations are ongoing. The Dominican tourism minister, Francisco Javier García, insists that it is safe for tourists, and there’s no warning from the U.S. State Department regarding the incidents. (The F.B.I. is helping the country’s national police to investigate).


​While it’s easy (and understandable) to be alarmed by the news coming out of the D.R., the vast majority of American tourists have visited in the last year without incident, and the Caribbean in general remains one of the safest parts of the world in which to travel. (28 million people visit every year, who are largely unaffected by crime or other danger.) Still, all of this is a reminder that even on a beach vacation, where all you want to do is swim, eat, drink, and relax in the sun, it’s worth thinking about your safety.

For tips on the key practices for eliminating risk while traveling, we spoke with John Gobbels, a former critical care nurse who was also the Clinical Director for STAT MedEvac in Pittsburgh (the air ambulance arm of the renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). He’s the current Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Medjet, which is one of the leading travel protection and medical transport companies in the country. We asked Gobbels for his thoughts on how to minimize risk on your next trip.


​Q: A few of the deaths in the Dominican Republic seemed to be the result of heart failure or respiratory issues. For travelers that may have a history of heart and respiratory problems, what are some key things to think about before and during a trip?

A: “Hot weather can be hard on the heart. The body cools itself in two ways, both of which involve the heart: radiation (moving blood around the body, especially pushing larger volumes closer to the skin), and evaporation (where perspiration helps cool the skin and the blood flowing through it). On a hot day, your body may be trying to circulate two to four times as much blood each minute as it does on a cool day.


As you can imagine, this may strain even a healthy cardiovascular system so can be especially problematic for people with already strained, or previously damaged, hearts. Add excessive sweating, which can reduce the potassium and sodium levels (key components in maintaining healthy circulation and body water levels), and a body can quickly fall prey to heat stroke, dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and other serious complications.


​“I think awareness is key. While the Caribbean may seem like a common and innocuous place to travel, have a conversation with your doctor prior to going — not just about vaccinations, but also about your overall health, and things that may be of heightened concern in hot/humid environments. Once you get there, take it easy. Staying cool as much as possible, drinking plenty of water, and eating light are ways to help your body cope with the heat.”

Q: Aside from heart and respiratory problems, what other health issues exist that can be affected by hot and humid parts of the world, such as the Caribbean?

A: “In addition to heart and circulation issues, of concern for hot climates might be Parkinsons, Alzheimers, diabetes, prior strokes and other conditions that might have possibly affected the brain’s ability to signal signs of oncoming dehydration.”

Q: Some reports have inferred that alcohol consumption may have played a part in a few of the incidents in the D.R. Are there any guidelines you can recommend in terms of alcohol use?

A: “Caffeinated beverages and alcohol can exacerbate dehydration. Avoiding sugary drinks is also a good idea since it can actually slow the body’s absorption of water. People on medications like beta blockers, diuretics, even some antidepressants and antihistamines that can block sweating, should also be mindful.


​“As a general rule, before consuming liquids, whether it be a water bottle you buy from a street or beach vendor, or alcohol from your hotel’s mini bar, always look closely at the cap to make sure there isn’t a gap between the seal ring and the bottle cap, as that would indicate the bottle has been opened. Do not leave drinks unattended, and NEVER accept a drink from a person not known to you, even at the hotel bar.”

Q: What about a hotel’s physical environment? What can guests do to ensure their room is as clean and non-toxic as possible?

A: “You have to remember that hotel rooms are frequently used, shared spaces, and not everything is ‘sanitized’ to the extent one would hope. The floors, comforters, bathroom countertops and other surfaces frequently still have human bacteria and infectious matter on them. Various forms of strep, staph, Bacillus spp, etc. can cause serious gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, even for those with healthy systems.


Ventilation systems are breeding grounds for bacteria and molds, and noxious gasses can occasionally be of concern, especially carbon monoxide.


While you can’t sterilize a room by yourself, I would suggest avoiding contact as much as possible: Don’t throw clothing and towels on the floor and then reuse them, don’t set your toothbrushes on the counter, remove the comforter or bed coverings when you get there. Basically, be cognizant of contacting surfaces with items you might put near your face. There are some great, easy to pack carbon monoxide alarms you can take with you, especially if it’s an older hotel or you’re staying in an Airbnb which may not be inspected or regulated like hotels. I own one of these for camping but also pack it for other trips.”

Getting a Passport Will Now Take Longer

A joint media investigation has revealed that China is forcing tourists to install an app on their smartphone that is able to steal and monitor texts, emails and other files.

The malware is part of a plot to spy on foreigners crossing into China’s Xinjiang region, where authorities are apparently cracking down on the local Muslim population, according to the investigation.

​Visitors are literally forced to install spy software on their phones – a border guard physically takes the phone and installs the app – giving Chinese officials access to all of their text messages, the report claims.

The joint investigation was conducted by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, The New York Times, and Germany’s NDR.

“(This app) provides yet another source of evidence showing how pervasive mass surveillance is being carried out in Xinjiang,” Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “We already know that Xinjiang residents — particularly Turkic Muslims — are subjected to around-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region. What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass, and unlawful surveillance.”

The app allegedly puts the 100 million yearly visitors to Xinjiang at risk of state surveillance. The Irkeshtam crossing is China’s most westerly border, and is regularly used by tourists and traders.

China has come under increasing international pressure recently over its arbitrary detention of Muslims in concentration camps in the northwest part of the country.


Sure, trying to fit a hair dryer into your already overstuffed luggage may sound like a pain in the butt, but trust us, you’ll want to start making space for it after reading this.

According to an in-depth investigation by ABC, hotels have a plethora of issues when it comes to cleanliness. And though this issue has been well documented, what hasn’t been focused on until now is just how gross hair dryers in hotels can be.

Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist who worked with ABC for their hotel cleanliness experiment, swabbed items in nine different Los Angeles-area hotels to find out which ones are the nastiest, and he was not impressed with what he found. "There must be some things you can do with a hair dryer that I am not aware of, because some of them were pretty germy," he said.


​The investigation noted that items like the hair dryer may become even dirtier than sinks and toilets because they are often overlooked as an item in need of cleaning by housekeeping, and thus can go days – or even years – without ever being disinfected.


​And it wasn’t just in low-cost motels that Gerba found the hair dryers to be particularly disgusting. According to ABC, Gerba tested the dryers at a number of hotels, which varied in price from $98 to $500 per night.

Beyond the dryers, Gerba also found that six of the nine bathroom sinks he tested had germ levels considered excessive.

"The biggest concern in a hotel room is picking up cold, flu virus or viruses that cause diarrhea," Gerba said. "It doesn't take very many to make you ill."

Gerba also noted that looks and price can be deceiving when it comes to hotel health safety. He added that some of the items often found in low-cost hotels, like plastic cups in wrappers or plastic bags for the ice buckets, can actually offer more germ protection than their swankier counterparts.

So next time you travel, perhaps back a blow dryer, or let your mane go au naturale – you are on vacation, after all.

How to Stay Safe While Traveling

The Passport Services agency of the United States Department of State has increased the processing time for international travelers to as long as eight weeks.

According to The Washington Post, the agency said it would now take between six and eight weeks to successfully process a passport application, a 50 percent increase from the four-to-six wait time experienced before May 31.


​State Department officials said it offers an expedited processing service for an additional $60, which speeds up the arrival time of passports to between two and three weeks. While officials declined to comment on the long wait times when asked by The Post, the State Department did indicate short-staffing was to blame.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration “requested a 2.5 percent increase in airport checkpoint screeners for fiscal 2020,” according to The Post. The increase in employees would help with the forecasted rise in travelers.

Despite the record number of passports and passport cards delivered each of the last two years, the number of passport specialists employed by the government has dropped by 14 percent.


Now, union leaders are complaining about mandatory overtime hours as a result.

“To address high passport workload levels this summer, the Department is leveraging all available resources to ensure processing times do not rise further and that they return to lower levels by September,” a State Department official who declined to be named told The Post.

How Do I Stay on Top of Fare Sales?


​Unless you enjoy the prospect of spending much of every day searching airline and OTA websites, the best way to keep on top of airfare sales is to subscribe to one or more airfare alerts. You have a range of choices. And we can help. Start with our own free fare alerts, our sister site BookingBuddy, and Airfarewatchdog’s famous fare alerts. In addition, many individual airlines, big OTAs, and metasearch systems offer airfare alerts or promotional bulletins.

Keep two important factors in mind when you search: First, Southwest fares are not available from any OTA or metasearch system; you can get these alerts from the SmarterTravel, BookingBuddy, and Airfarewatchdog links above or from Southwest directly. Second, any time a big airline announces a sale, competitors usually match it, at least where they compete directly, within 24 hours. So always take some time to shop around before you book.

A United States agency has issued a report that claims serious injuries and deaths caused by traffic accidents in The Bahamas are a major concern for tourists.

According to The Nassau Guardian, the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) said in its 2019 Crime and Safety Report there was a 29 percent overall increase in traffic-related deaths from 2017 to 2018.


​The report also found that one of the leading causes is intolerant drivers who show reckless and sometimes antagonistic behavior on the road. OSAC cites reports of pedestrians being struck by cars and fatal accidents caused by impatient drivers in areas known for heavy traffic.


​“The embassy continues to see a significant number of serious injuries from accidents in which the operator suffered from alcohol/drug impairment, lack of experience or inattention operator and/or other motorists,” the report said.

Police have warned locals and tourists about ignoring stop signs, speed limits and traffic signals, but the number of accidents continues to be a problem. In January, the commissioner of police announced there were 63 fatal traffic accidents recorded in The Bahamas last year that resulted in 69 deaths.


​For tourists who rent cars while in The Bahamas, OSAC warns them to drive defensively and exercise caution. The agency also recommends avoiding travel on scooters and bicycles, especially in heavy traffic conditions.

Poor planning and maintenance of roads were also cited as hazards for visitors.

As always, talk to your travel agent about best safety practices before visiting.

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