Last updated: 10:02 AM ET, Sat February 20 2016

How Far Has Travel to Zika-Affected Areas Fallen?

Impacting Travel | Josh Lew | February 19, 2016

How Far Has Travel to Zika-Affected Areas Fallen?

PHOTO: Despite unease generated by the Zika Virus, travel to Brazil is projected to increase over the next year. Pictured here is Rio de Janeiro. (Photo by David Cogswell)

Though it is not as dangerous to most people as past outbreaks (H5N1, SARS) or other mosquito borne illnesses like malaria and dengue, the Zika virus has stolen quite a few headlines in recent months. The outbreak is at its worst in the Caribbean and Latin America, where the mosquitos that carry the disease thrive. 

Warnings and concerns

Though Zika is not usually deadly, it can lead to birth defects when it is contracted by pregnant women, and it can cause cold and flu-like symptoms in anyone who catches it. The outbreak is serious enough that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a travel warning for the Caribbean and Latin America. The effects of that warning, which was made on Jan. 15, are not becoming evident. 

The CDC specifically warned women who were pregnant or may become pregnant that there was increased danger of birth defects if they contracted the disease while traveling. Zika has caused babies to be born with brain damage and excessively small heads. The World Health Organization declared Zika a “global health emergency” at the beginning of February. 

READ MORE: What Travelers Need to Know About Zika Virus

A short-term drop

There have been conflicting reports about how much the Zika scare has hurt travel. The airline analysts at ForwardKeys have looked at travel data for Zika-affected regions and found that the warnings have indeed caused a decrease in the number of travelers heading to the Caribbean and Latin America. 

According the the analysis by ForwardKeys, flight bookings to affected areas have fallen by 3.4 percent since the CDC warning on Jan. 15 and a full 10 percent since WHO’s declaration on Feb. 1. 


ForwardKey’s CEO Olivier Jager said that numbers are down compared to last year, but perhaps people are taking the issue a bit too seriously. “When compared to the figures for the previous year, we have seen an overall drop of 4 percent and a further drop to 10 percent after the WHO’s announcement at the beginning of February. We believe this drop is related to the fear of Zika. It is unfortunate when you consider that as of today, WHO has not issued a travel warning, and is simply suggesting that ‘travelers should take basic precautions.’” 

READ MORE: How Is Zika Virus Affecting Travel Agents?

Despite the average drop in bookings for the entire area, some destinations have been harder hit than others. Guadeloupe, Martinique, the U.S Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have seen more than 20 percent fewer bookings since the warning. 

Not a long-term problem?

However, ForwardKeys has also made projections for some of the countries that are at the epicenter of the Zika outbreak. The data for forward bookings suggests that Brazil and Colombia should actually see their visitor numbers rise by May. Based on reservations, Brazil could see a 25 percent increase in the number of visitors compared to the same period in 2015. Another South American nation, Guyana, could see as many as 40 percent more arrivals between March and May.  

It appears that the recent WHO declaration and CDC warning have had some impact on travel. However, based on projections, things could actually be looking up for the countries with the worst Zika problems.   


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