As concerns over the Zika virus mount with increasing
reports about its spread and effects, travel agents are coming up with
alternate plans for their clients, especially for so-called babymoon travelers,
as pregnant women have been advised to postpone travel to countries where Zika
transmission is ongoing.
As of last week, cases of the mosquito-borne virus had
been reported in more than 20 countries in the Caribbean and South and Central
America, with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret
Chan saying it was “spreading explosively.”
“The level of alarm is extremely high,” Chan said from
Geneva, where she called for an emergency committee to convene Feb. 1 to assess
the worldwide threat level of the virus and prioritize research areas.
The threat of the Zika virus is greatest to pregnant
women, as it is suspected to be linked with the incomplete brain development in
babies known as microcephaly. It is also suspected to have caused some cases of
Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous
system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
has a travel alert in place recommending that pregnant women postpone travel to
countries where the Zika virus is known to be a problem.
As the prevalence of the virus increases, travel
agents have been taking action, fielding calls from concerned clients and
figuring out where to send them as an alternative to one of the affected
Airlines are making it easier for travelers to make
Zika-related changes: United, American, Delta and JetBlue are offering
rebookings or refunds to customers scheduled to travel to areas where the virus
is being transmitted.
Terry McCabe, national director of leisure at Altour,
said last week she hadn’t had any cancellations so far, but that she was
discussing the issue with her clients.
“Anyone who’s thinking of having a child, getting
pregnant, I would tell them not to go,” she said about the affected countries.
She said it’s difficult to pick a place in the
Caribbean for clients because she believes Zika will likely spread to the
entire region in the near future.
Adding to the difficulties of where to send clients is
time: Her typical Caribbean traveler spends from four to seven days in a
destination, nixing tropical destinations farther from home. However, at the
end of February and early March, the weather in Bermuda will be consistently
warm, McCabe said, making it a contender.
Margie Hand of Andavo Travel said it all comes down to
the client. Some would still be willing to go to a Caribbean country that isn’t
on the CDC’s list, she said, but even in those instances she would advise them
of the virus and proper safety precautions.
If a client has enough time and a large enough budget,
Hand said she considered Hawaii a potential Caribbean substitute.
South Florida, including the Keys and Sanibel Island,
are also possibilities, as is the California coast.
One of the biggest markets likely to be impacted by
Zika is babymooners, something specialist Darcy Allen of Travel by Darcy is
But Allen said the babymoon market as a whole is not
likely to take a hit; instead, couples will just travel to different,
Allen said she might recommend islands that have so
far not been affected by Zika, such as Aruba, Jamaica, St. Lucia or the
Bahamas. Bermuda is also on her radar as a potential spot for East Coast
clients, Hawaii for West Coast customers.
Mexico, Allen’s top babymoon destination, is likely to
take a hit in that market, she said. She is steering clients away from there as
well as from the Dominican Republic, another country where Zika virus has been
transmitted and is Allen’s second most popular babymoon spot.
St. Lucia and Jamaica, which were not on the CDC’s
list as of last week, round out her top babymoon destinations.
However, the Jamaican Ministry of Health said in a statement over
the weekend it has confirmed one case of Zika virus in a four-year-old child,
now recovered. According to the ministry, the child had returned to
Jamaica after traveling to Texas. The source of infection is being
“I think it all depends on how long people have,
because if they only have three or four nights, we want to look for something
that’s closer to home,” she said. “That’s just kind of a babymoon rule of thumb
anyway, so that they’re not on a plane for six or seven hours or bouncing
around on small prop planes.”
Allen is one of several agents who said it was
important to stay informed so to be able to arm clients with the information
“I think it’s going to be one of those things,” she
said. “There’s always a new virus. You hate to say that, but there’s always
something that’s happening. I think it’s just making sure you read up about it,
know that those things are out there. There are going to be safety concerns no
matter where in the world you travel.”
Note: Information about Jamaica was added on Monday morning.