Some vacation spots quietly benefit as travellers avoid Zika

With government officials now warning pregnant women to avoid Miami Beach in addition to Puerto Rico, some sun seekers are desperately scrambling for a Zika-free vacation. And that has left other tourist destinations to capitalize – quietly.

Shawn Kilner (Owner – Imagine Cruise & Travel) say families worried about Zika are now looking to Arizona and Southern California to get some sun, along with cooler weather locales such as New England, Alaska, Mexico , Peru, Ecuador and Canada.

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes or through sex with an infected person. In pregnant women, a Zika infection can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, where babies are born with a dangerously small head. In others, it can lead to Guillain-Barre, which can cause temporary paralysis and in rare instances, death.

Given that background, many would-be vacationers don’t want to take the risk.

Bermuda has seen several groups move meetings and conventions there from Caribbean islands.

We have a family that takes a vacation every few years with 10 family members, spanning three generations. This year’s adventure was planned for Riviera Maya in Mexico. But with two members of the group at child-bearing age – and older members with compromised immune systems – that plan was scrapped because of Zika. Canada’s Banff National Park in being considered.

Such travel shifts worry tourism officials in destinations with Zika.

Miami is the first spot on the US mainland where the virus has been transmitted by mosquito bites. The tourism industry has a lot at risk. More than 15.5 million people made overnight visits to Miami and nearby beaches in 2015, with an impact of US $24.4 billion on the local economy, according to figures from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Some of that business is likely to go elsewhere.

It has hurt a particularly popular part of the travel business: honeymoons and so-called babymoons, trips prior to the arrival of a new child. For those destinations with Zika warnings, there has been a significant loss in business.

It’s too early to estimate the economic toll of Zika. There are added health costs, the loss of business and the lack of travel. The 2002 and 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was estimated by the World Bank to have cost the global economy $54 billion.

The affected destinations aren’t sitting still. Some are rejiggering marketing campaigns, hoping to attract new audiences.

Magazines including Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler have been offering “Zika-Free Destination” guides, offering alternative destinations. They include Bermuda, Charleston, South Carolina, San Diego, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Arizona and best of all Canada!

And not every destination has to be warm-weather.

“When travellers tell me they want a place that’s Zika-free, terrorist-free and affordable, I suggest Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and New Zeland” says Shawn Kilner, a travel expert.

Those who really want to head to Latin America are planning trips to places that are at higher elevations where mosquitoes don’t live, such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Mexico City and Bogota, Colombia, Perrin says.
Kilner notes that mosquitoes have been spreading diseases like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever for centuries, many of them deadlier than Zika.

“Obviously, people who are pregnant, or trying to be, should avoid Zika-affected areas,” she says. “But the rest of us should be careful not to focus so much on avoiding Zika that we choose a destination that puts our health at greater risk, whether from mosquitoes carrying other diseases or from another cause such as tainted water.”

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