While travel agents are reporting some cancellations to
locations where Zika virus cases have been reported, they are preparing for the
possibility of more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday
issued a travel alert for countries and territories where Zika virus has been
found, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala,
Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and
The alert followed reports coming out of Brazil of
incomplete brain development (microcephaly) in babies of mothers who were
infected with Zika virus while pregnant. The CDC has also advised any pregnant
women who have traveled to countries with the Zika virus to get tested if they
are have two or more symptoms of the virus.
Going forward, agents are providing clients information
about the virus and recommending that they
follow their doctor’s advice.
Jennifer Doncsecz, president of Bethlehem, Pa.-based VIP
Vacations, which specializes in destination weddings and honeymoons, said on
Wednesday that she had three inquiries in the past three days from clients
traveling to affected countries, but no cancellations.
“We are very concerned. We are actually going to ask our
clients, when it’s time for final payments, if they’re pregnant,” she said. “I
just think the liability’s out there. If they have not heard about it, they
should at least know about it.”
Connie Miller, a Travel Leaders associate in Omaha,
Nebraska, said she had one family cancel a trip to Mexico because a member of
the traveling party is pregnant. Instead, they are investigating alternate
Another client heading to an affected country called with
concerns about the disease, but Miller said she spoke to them about precautions
they could take while traveling. Considering that, as well as their overall
health, they opted to take the trip.
As of Tuesday evening, Sally Jane Smith, owner of
Signature Travel Network member TravelSmiths in Point Pleasant, N.J., reported
that three pregnant clients had canceled trips.
“They don’t want to take the chance,” she said.
Another client emailed with concerns about how resorts
are handling the situation in Mexico but had not yet decided to cancel.
With all clients, Smith said, “we are suggesting that
they contact their physician to guide them.”
Eric Sheets, founder of Aventura, Fla.-based Latin
Excursions, a Traveller Made agency, said he has not yet had any cancellations
or postponements due to Zika, but he is also counseling travelers to speak with
their doctors and heed their advice.
Barkley Hickox, co-owner of The Local Foreigner, a
Virtuoso agency in New York, said she received her first client inquiry about
the virus on Tuesday.
“I think it’s just getting momentum in the press, and
I’ve no doubt that it probably will continue to get momentum, kind of like
chikungunya did awhile back,” she said.
Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne virus that commonly
causes fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to
treat the virus. According to the CDC, it hit the Caribbean for the first time
in late 2013; outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and
the Indian and Pacific oceans.
When viruses like Zika and chikungunya pop up on her clients’
radar, Hickox points them to the CDC to get the facts. “We let people make
their own decisions based on that kind of information,” she said.
Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel
Leaders Group, said the safety of agents’ clients is a top priority.
Travel Leaders Group has been tracking Zika for some
time, but Loucks said before December, the CDC called the illness “unusually
“However, once the Brazilian Health Ministry linked it
with birth defects last month, we immediately began arming our agents with
information they can use when discussing this mosquito-borne virus and
associated destinations with their clients, especially those who are
pregnant,” he said. “Keeping in mind that the vast majority of our agents’
clients are not in the same risk category as pregnant women, we also provided
our agents with precautions to minimize their risk of being bitten by infected mosquitoes.”
Loucks said Travel Leaders Group agents were updated
again when the CDC enhanced its advisory about Zika virus.
“Above all else, we wanted to make sure that our agents
had the facts so they could convey them to clients, particularly those who are
pregnant and planning on visiting one of the destinations with reported locally
transmitted cases,” he said.
This report was updated at 5:18 p.m.