How Is Zika Virus Affecting Travel Agents?
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
Zika virus reports are running rampant in the news, The World Health Organization said they needed $56 million to combat the virus until June, and President Obama has asked Congress for $1.8 billion to respond to the outbreak. But this doesn’t seem to be changing anyone’s travel plans.
Jolie Goldring, a Luxury Travel Consultant with In The Know Experiences in New York City, said that she has some clients who are more nervous than others since the news broke, but for the most part they are still traveling. “I had some people going to so-called safe islands and they were questioning if Zika was there,” she said. “They (are possibly) going to lose their hard-earned money if they do not go. However, they want to enjoy themselves without being concerned or stressed.”
Travel Leaders Group recently released findings from its Zika travel survey that was conducted Feb. 3-5, 2016. The results are based on responses from 1,102 Travel Leaders Group travel agent experts.
According to results, the vast majority of clients are continuing with their original travel plans. When asked “How many clients are cancelling their travel plans because of the Zika virus,” 74.1 percent of Travel Leaders Group’s travel agents reported “none” for clients in their 20s and 30s; 89.8 percent stated no cancellations for clients in their 40s and 50s; and 93.0 percent stated there are no cancellations for clients 60 years and older.
“So far, we are seeing no noticeable change in travel plans, we have had very few cancellations or postponements — only five people out of thousands who plan to go in 2016,” said Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours in New York City. “We are suggesting that they bring mosquito repellent so they feel safe and do not have to worry about facing a shortage when they reach their destinations.”
When her travelers express concern, Goldring assures them that she is there to help. “My best advice is to check the Centers for Disease Control website and then call their physician, especially if they are pregnant or want to become pregnant,” she said. “As a travel professional, I am not really equipped or comfortable to give out advice when they say ‘should I travel here or there,’ and ‘am I going to get it.’ We’ve been through this before with viruses and that none of the thousands of travelers our agency helps has gotten it, but I tell them to do some research before making a decision.”
There has only been one cancellation so far for Deanna Tracey, owner of CDT Travel in Newburgh, New York. “They were going to South America and changed plans to Europe instead,” she said. “There are so many unknowns about this, but we do know that insurance companies aren’t issuing refunds just because you’re afraid to travel somewhere.”
READ MORE: What Travelers Need to Know About Zika Virus
Out of those who were surveyed from the Travel Leaders Group who indicated that clients in their 20s and 30s are canceling travel plans because of Zika virus, 89.8 percent of cancellations are due to a pregnancy or possible pregnancy.
Marty Seslow, vice president of marketing and sales for Gate 1 Travel, said that there has not been a downturn in new reservations due to the Zika virus and the majority of callers have taken a wait-and-see approach. “Those few passengers who did choose to cancel each had a pregnant female in their traveling party,” he said. “At present, our response includes lenient cancellation and change policies for pregnant women and their companions visiting affected regions. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will make further changes proactively as needed.”
It seems that most agencies are also taking that proactive approach until more information is available.
For more Travel Agent News
More by Lisa Iannucci
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Recent Travel Opinions
Airlines & Airports
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship