Travel industry hit by Zika virus

Travel industry hit by Zika virus

Airlines, hotels and cruise operators are facing growing concern among travellers who had planned to visit countries potentially affected by Zika virus.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, comes as a record percentage of Americans plan a holiday in coming months and a near-record proportion of them look to travel abroad with a strong US dollar making overseas destinations more affordable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, which has used Twitter as a platform to discuss the virus, warned travellers to “consider postponing travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission.”

Canada and Chile are the only countries in the Americas the virus is not expected to reach, the WHO said on Monday.

United Airlines said it was allowing customers who had reserved tickets for travel to Zika-impacted regions to postpone their trips or obtain refunds with no penalty.

Norwegian Cruise Lines and rival Carnival Corp said they would allow expectant mothers covered by the CDC advisories to reschedule cruises to a later date or switch to an itinerary outside the affected countries.

But some Twitter users lamented their ruined holidays and their inability to get a refund from tourism operators.

Stu Privett, an HR systems specialist for the Royal College of Nursing in London, tweeted about cancelling a trip to Barbados with his wife, who is in her first trimester. Privett said he was unable to get a refund from Virgin Holidays.

“They basically said it was our choice not to go on the holiday,” Privett told Reuters. “Basically (it’s) a case of ‘we just lose all the money we’ve spent.'”

A Virgin Holidays spokesperson said the company would look into the claim.

Many airlines and tourist authorities said they had seen minimal impact.

“There is no reason tourists can’t walk around in bikinis,” Cancun tourist association president Carlos Gosselin said.

Hotel chain Hilton Worldwide said in a statement it was working with local health authorities throughout the region to follow CDC prevention recommendations.

Still, one US travel agent said tourists with short-term travel plans to Latin America were rethinking them.

“It’s the people who are going to travel in the next few weeks who are starting to ask more questions and rethink their plans,” said Jennifer Michels, a spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Image credit: iStock

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