Zika Fears Continue To Impact Tourism

by Richard D'Ambrosio

Miami Beach. Photo: Miamiboyz

Travel to Florida for the peak 2016-17 winter season could be off by more than 15%, according to an analysis by insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance. 

Allianz reviewed more than 940,000 Americans’ travel plans made during August, on the heels of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warning about the Zika virus for Miami Beach. Allianz looked at travel plans to Florida for the peak vacation season of mid-November 2016 to mid-April 2017 and found that Miami bookings are off 29.1%. For the state as a whole, bookings are down 14.8%. 

Also down are Tampa, by 32.8%, and Southwest Florida, by 21.2%. Orlando is down 7.9%. 

Popular north Florida destinations seem to be benefiting from some of this shift. Daytona Beach is up 11.5% and Tallahassee is up nearly 19% for the same travel periods booked this August.  

Dan Durazo, Allianz director of communications, pointed to the Zika virus as the most likely factor for the shifts in bookings. 

Earlier in September, the CDC lifted its Zika travel warning for Miami's Wynwood neighborhood after local Florida officials declared the area free of the virus. The neighborhood had not recorded a case of local Zika transmission in 45 days. However, the state expanded the Miami Beach Zika zone recently to 4.5 square miles. 

The Wynwood Business Improvement District has been quoted as saying that business has dropped by as much as 50% at restaurants, bars and studios in the former warehouse district. 

Puerto Rico seeks to allay fears
Other impacted areas continued their efforts to combat the virus, educate the travel industry and assuage traveler fears.  

For example, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) this week employed Mónica Puig, who won Puerto Rico's first gold medal at the Rio Olympics, as an educational ambassador with local officials to raise awareness of protection and prevention programs to stop the spread of Zika.  

PRTC has been working with the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association, Meet Puerto Rico, the Convention Bureau and other industry partners in an aggressive educational and preventive campaign to ensure that hotels and tourist attractions are spraying to control mosquito populations, maintaining strict preventive grounds-keeping practices and training employees to recognize and deal with potential mosquito breeding grounds. 

The CDC hasn’t updated its Zika warning for Puerto Rico since Aug. 5. The current warning offers preventative advice during and after travel to Puerto Rico. 

Hotel occupancy in June in Puerto Rico is down 3.4 points versus the same period last year, while non-resident hotel registrations are down 4.4%, according to PRTC.  

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