By August 2021, about a year after the Dominican Republic reopened to tourism, you might have noticed something intriguing if you happened to be looking at Kayak.com’s flight trends. For more than a month, destinations in just one country consistently displayed green, meaning they had generated more search interest than they had two years earlier: the Dominican Republic.
September, November and December were good months for the country. Tourism numbers surpassed prepandemic levels, and coronavirus case counts stayed low, typically hovering between 100 and 300 daily. But then Omicron hit. On Jan. 12, a record 7,439 people tested positive in the Dominican Republic, far more than any other day during the pandemic. On Dec. 29, the country also reported eight Covid-related deaths, more than it had seen in a single day in months.
“The hospitals are full; children, old people, everyone, sick with Covid,” said Dr. Senén Caba, the president of the Colegio Médico.
He blamed the government’s lax entry policy for the suffering. Though people who work in the tourism sector may be largely young, healthy and vaccinated, they can still transmit the virus to family members and others. (Only 54 percent of the population overall is fully vaccinated.)
According to the tourism ministry the spike is not a reason to adjust the country’s approach.
“Omicron is everywhere,” and testing requirements offer countries little more than the illusion of security, Ms. Mora said. Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, a trade organization representing nearly 300 airlines, echoed this argument in a recent statement.
Asked if interacting with potentially contagious visitors all day made him nervous, Maiken Mercedes, a server at Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana, said, “What gives me fear is not the virus, it’s not making money for my family.” Other employees in the hospitality industry also expressed concerns that more restrictions would mean fewer guests.
But there has to be a way to encourage responsible tourism, said Ivan Lorenzo, a senator for the Dominican province of Elías Piña, which shares a border with Haiti.