Surviving the Tummy Bug Republic

By Fred Mawer, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 15:42 08 July 2002


Health problems have surfaced yet again in the Dominican Republic - which grabbed the headlines in the Nineties with nightmare tales of holidaymakers falling victim to diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

Airtours Holidays relocated dozens of tourists from the Dominican Bay Hotel in the resort of Boca Chica in April after they became ill.

Experts reckon that poor staff hygiene practices contributed to the outbreak and suspect the water supply was contaminated.

Airtours had been using the hotel for cut-price 'allocation on arrival' deals.

A spokesman says: 'As soon as we realised there was a problem we offered to move everyone to other accommodation.

'We haven't sent any more clients to the hotel since. We are waiting until investigations are complete before deciding whether to continue using the hotel.'

The Dominican Bay sounds grim.

Lavinia Hamilton, from Rainham, Essex, says: 'There were awful stenches around the pool, flies all over the food and plastic cups used as ashtrays were being recycled.'

Lavinia, her partner Paul Johnson and daughter Carley were laid low for days with diarrhoea.

They were moved to another hotel but only properly recovered when they returned home.

Lydia and Joey Howells, from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, and their friends the Griffithses all fell sick.

Joey was so ill he was admitted to hospital and put on a drip.

Lydia says: 'Airtours offered just £1,500 compensation for all of us, based on the number of days we were ill. That can't be right, can it?'

Brenda Wall, of Holiday TravelWatch, is in touch with 35 families who became ill at the hotel.

They are considering a group action against Airtours.

Brenda is on the warpath. 'Tour operators led me to believe that conditions in the Dominican Republic had improved.

'But this latest outbreak shows that certain operators need to make considerable improvements in hygiene standards and to monitor hotels they send their customers to a lot more thoroughly.

'I hope this recent episode is an isolated incident, not a sign of things to come.'

A view shared by all concerned with tourism to this Caribbean country.

Back in 1997, when the popularity of the 'Dom Rep' peaked, it was also the package holiday destination where we were most likely to get ill.

The bad publicity caused business to plummet.

Some operators pulled out, others slashed their programmes and promised to use only hotels inspected by Cristal, a British food hygiene company.


Cristal still inspects most of the hotels used by British tour firms, visiting each one unannounced at least once a month.

It claims standards have improved dramatically since it started work in 1998.

On each visit tests are carried out on food and water samples, food preparation is checked and hotels are given a rating.

A basic pass is 64 per cent.

The average rating is now 70 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in 1998.

And the number of Britons reporting upset tummies has dropped by half from 1997 to 2001 - from nearly 60 per cent to just under 30 per cent.

So is it wise to visit the Dom Rep, and what precautions should you take?

Having observed Cristal carry out a hotel inspection, I can vouch for its professionalism.

But some hotels will always be worse than others and there is no way of knowing which these are.

The hotels pay for the audits, so the results are confidential.

Your best bet is to stay in a hotel with a 'cristalisimo' award (Click here for list).

To receive the award, the hotel has to be given ratings of 85 per cent or above regularly.

But wherever you stay in the Dom Rep, it will almost certainly be an all-inclusive hotel which, anywhere in the world, poses a major threat to your health.

A recent Holiday Which? survey found that those staying in all-inclusives were nearly twice as likely to fall ill as those staying in normal hotels.

Why? Because all-inclusives usually serve buffets.

According to Dr Richard Dawood, specialist in travellers' health issues, 'buffet foods are often the highest risk items and should usually be avoided'.

He suggests asking for something that has to be freshly prepared or cooked, or at least choosing food that is directly over a flame.

I'd add that many Dom Rep hotels have a la carte restaurants: eat in one of these instead of in the buffet dining-room.

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