June 7, 2019

by Matt Barkett

So what the heck is going on in the Dominican?

First the reports of three deaths under suspicious circumstances at a popular resort hotel. Now the report of a woman who claims to have been beaten by a hotel employee while on vacation with family and friends near the same location.

The beating victim, unsuccessful in her attempts to negotiate a financial settlement with the resort owner, turned to Facebook to ― graphically ― present her side of the story. That move shows the power of social media to draw attention to a story, particularly when added to other media attention about the suspicious deaths.

In the Dominican, tourism represents a significant and important component of its fragile economy. Bad news like this can quickly have a negative impact. (Ask the Mexican tourism officials dealing with violence from gangs and drug cartels infiltrating popular resort communities previously considered immune to such danger.) So, what was the response from the Dominican resort owners?

Bahia Principe, the resort operators where the deaths occurred, took to Facebook to tell their story, laying out a long and defensive narrative about how proper procedure had been followed in each instance and that the facts of the situation were incorrectly reported by mainstream media. Bahia also noted one of the victims had a heart condition, implying maybe there wasn’t anything that could have been done in the first place.

Majestic Elegance, owners of the resort where the alleged beating took place, was quick to point out that the victim only went public after her demands for $2.2 million in compensation were denied. Majestic also played the tourism card, noting the negative impact such media coverage can have on not only their company but also the Dominican economy.

Bottom line for both organizations is they were aggressive in their messaging probably because they felt if they didn’t come out with a strong position, they may have lost bookings due to fear of things that, in the end, they felt were not their fault. In an incredibly competitive marketplace like tourism, a tainted online reputation can kill a travel season and put a travel operator out of business with the speed of a passing tropical shower. Getting your position and the full story on the record where people can find it is critical to weathering the storm.

If you’d like to talk about how to publicly address a crisis facing your organization, please email Matt Barkett at mbarkett@dix-eaton.com.