Zika Virus: A new threat to travel agencies | TravelResearchOnline

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Zika Virus: A new threat to travel agencies

Here we go again. It seems like every time we turn around, there is some calamity beyond our control tossing a wrench into our business plans. Commission cuts, Avian Flu, Mad Cow Disease, Noro Virus, Ebola… the list goes on. The latest is the Zika Virus, and this is one that I think we might want to watch as an industry as it is quite different than anything we have seen.

What is the Zika Virus?

The Zika Virus has been around for a long time, and for the most part was a benign mosquito-borne disease. Recently, it has spread from equatorial Africa into South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. Just recently in the last month, the virus was linked to microcephaly in infants. This is a great article on the background and how we arrived where we are today. Another good resource is the New York Times piece Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus.

From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year.

Zika is transmitted through infected Aedes mosquitoes and can be passed from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth, according to the CDC.

The CDC has issued a travel alert that recommends pregnant women postpone travel to areas where the virus has been reported.

Affected areas

While Zika typically was found in equatorial Africa, the disease has spread and now threatens what is likely the bread and butter of most travel professionals in the United States. The affected areas include most of South America, in particular Brazil who is hosting the 2016 Summer Games, and the Caribbean, including several popular tourist destinations.

Airlines took note early

The airlines, arguably one of the most greedy industries on the planet, took note of this potential threat very early and have offered refunds to travelers with concerns of the Zika Virus.

Apple Vacations has also relaxed cancellation penalties for people concerned with the virus. No doubt others will follow suit shortly.

What to do now

As with many things in our industry, this one is out of our hands and there is very little we can do to mitigate it. The key for travel agencies right now is to keep abreast of the virus and monitor it’s spread via the CDC page.

Contact your preferred suppliers who service destinations that are impacted and become familiar with their cancellation policies.

Bone up on your destination knowledge. If the virus becomes widespread, you will need to be prepared to offer your clients some alternative destinations. For clients looking for the Caribbean and Mexico, look to the Bahamas, Cabo San Lucas, and Bermuda among others. For your South American clients, Spain, Portugal, and Italy all might be valid choices as well.

But perhaps one of the best solutions might be a cruise. Certainly the cruise lines are watching the Zika Virus closely and they are still (constantly) battling the noro-virus outbreaks. As long as you are selling the cruise experience (versus the destination), a cruise might be the answer for your clients as a ship can change itineraries on a moment’s notice.

Have you given much thought to the Zika Virus? What are your contingency plans?

 

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