by Joe Sylvester
Northeast Pennsylvania travelers plan to head to warmer climates during the cooler months this year, and that’s keeping local travel agencies busy.
Travel agents here are booking travelers for the fall and winter to Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico, many of them on cruises.
The Dominican Republic also is regaining its popularity of past years, according to a couple local travel agents. The mysterious deaths of several Americans last year had many travelers backing away and re-booking elsewhere after vendors waived cancellation fees.
“Punta Cana (in the Dominican Republic) really is a non-issue right now,” said Tracey Schraner, a travel agent at Abington Travel in Clarks Summit. “We only had a few people change their trips. This summer, we still had 50 go down there. We’ve had a lot of people down there. They had a ball.”
One Luzerne County travel agent who is a certified Dominican Republic travel advisor also said the Dominican is recovering.
“Our main booking destination is still Punta Cana, followed by Mexico,” said Teri Price, owner of PriceRight Travel in Hanover Township.
Eleven American tourists died in the Dominican Republic this year and at least 13 Americans have died there under suspicious circumstances since June 2018, according to media reports.
The State Department confirmed the deaths of several U.S. tourists who died while staying at all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic since June 2018, though most died from heart attacks or other apparent natural causes.
However, TIME reported that according to the U.S. State Department, there has not been an increase in reported deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic. The State Department reported 13 U.S. citizens died while traveling to the Dominican Republic in 2018, fewer than the 17 in 2017.
More than 2.7 million U.S. tourists visited the island in 2017, according to TIME, nearly 40% of all tourists who visited.
Hawaii on bucket lists
Schraner said she is booking more travelers overall this year.
“It really is kind of up a little bit and this year it seems like we’re getting more for Hawaii than normal. Cruises are always very popular, European river cruises.”
She attributed the increase to the economy and more people getting up into their retirement years.
“Hawaii is a bucket list kind of thing,” she said.
Cruises to the Caribbean out of New York and Baltimore also are popular.
“Europe is up, too,” Schraner said. “Italy, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. They’ve become a year-round destination instead of just a summer thing.”
Saint-Martin, the French side of the Caribbean island, and the Dutch side, Sint Maarten, are making a comeback from the Category 5 Hurricane Irma, which struck in September 2017, Schraner said.
“They are reopening a lot of new hotels, there’s lots of new construction,” she said.
Heading for the sun
Ernest Lemoncelli, co-owner with his wife, Beatriz Cabrera, of EZ Cruise and Travel, Eynon, said that while he is seeing travelers still avoiding the Dominican Republic, “For the most part, vendors are rescheduling them or rebooking them into other locations.”
He said Alaska, popular in the warmer months, is about done until next year.
“Alaska is over,” he said. “The last two weeks in September are the last.”
Cabrera said that because of a huge amount of seaweed washing ashore south of Cancun, Mexico, around Riviera Maya, “I’ve been sending people north of Cancun, to Costa Mujeres.”
“This is a good destination,” she said, noting other popular vacation spots are the Bahamas and Jamaica and St. Lucia.
“People prefer all inclusives, because at the end, it becomes less expensive than paying for each meal or going out,” she said. “Cruises are always, always, always popular in Northeast Pennsylvania.”
When they go and how many are traveling can usually determine where they go, too.
“Couples like the idea of going to Jamaica,” Cabrera said.
With children, they want the all inclusive. Honeymooners like to go to Thailand.
Lemoncelli said Sandals Resorts has put up over-the-water bungalows in the Caribbean.
“But they’re not cheap,” he said.
He suggests vacationers going on cruises to the Caribbean travel to Florida to start the cruise rather than get on the ship in New York.
“You can go further into the Caribbean,” he said. “If you leave from New York, it’s a day and a half before you get to the Caribbean.”
Price said the Bahamas, Aruba, St. Martin and St. Lucia are the popular places to go this fall and winter.
“We were always taught to go to the Caribbean off-season,” she said. She said February and July are the most expensive for the islands.
“I have a lot of people book for January. I have people booked all the way to June 2020.”
Price said fall and winter are very busy.
“We’re busy all week,” she said.