Following the deaths of nine Americans and one Canadian who became ill and died in the Dominican Republic over the past year, one travel expert says vacationers concerned about visiting the country shouldn’t be afraid, just prepared.

Robin Ingle, the CEO of Ingle & MSH International, an international travel insurance provider, said it’s still unclear what caused the sudden deaths of those American and Canadian tourists, but he said they could be the result of a number of reasons.

“A lot of the locals think that it’s bad alcohol. There could be a way to cheapen the alcohol homemade. That could be part of it, but I also think you’ve got a combination of issues that are happening. People have pre-existing medical conditions,” he speculated during an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.

In several cases, the cause of death was officially listed as a heart attack or pulmonary edema. The Ontario man who suddenly died during a two-week vacation in the Dominican Republic in April suffered a burst artery in his brain. His family said they’re still awaiting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

The travel expert said Canadians should remember these recent deaths represent only a small percentage of the Dominican Republic’s overall tourism statistics.

In fact, according to the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, the country received 837,104 Canadian visitors in 2017. That number was surpassed only by the Americans with more than two million visitors that same year.

While American officials said they’re working with local authorities to determine if there’s a connection between the deaths, both the U.S. and Canada have avoided issuing travel advisories to the Dominican Republic.

The Canadian government does advise, however, that travellers “exercise a high degree of caution in the Dominican Republic due to a high crime rate.”

Ingle said Canadian tourists can be targets for petty theft and robbery in the Caribbean nation and they should take the necessary precautions as a result.

“I think what Canadians have to realize, even if you don’t think that you’re well off or that you’re rich, when you travel to an area that’s developing, like Dominican Republic, you have to understand that you are rich compared to the local people,” he said.

In terms of overall safety, Ingle said there are a number of steps travellers can take to protect themselves including:

  • Watch what food and drink you consume
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in your home country
  • If you feel unsafe somewhere, leave
  • Protect your valuables