Six months after the Zika virus started making headlines in
the U.S., its effects are being felt by agents who cater to the “babymoon” and,
in some cases, honeymoon travel markets.
While business as a whole remains solid, babymoon and
honeymoon specialists reported a shift in the destinations to which pregnant
travelers or those looking to become pregnant are heading. Instead of more
traditional Caribbean babymoons, soon-to-be parents are choosing Zika-free
vacation spots like Hawaii and Canada, among others.
“I am really only seeing [the destination shift] in
honeymoon couples, couples that are expecting babies and couples that are
trying to get pregnant,” said Margie Hand, an agent and Caribbean specialist
with Andavo Travel.
The Zika virus is most dangerous for pregnant women. Many
affected by the virus are asymptomatic, and those who exhibit symptoms tend to
have mild fevers, rashes, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain or headaches,
not unlike dengue and chikungunya.
But for pregnant women who become infected with Zika, the
disease has been linked to microcephaly, a devastating birth defect in which a
child is born with an undeveloped skull. It has also been linked to Guillaine-Barre
syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system.
The virus is spread through mosquitoes and sexual
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), as of last week there were no locally acquired mosquito-borne cases of
Zika in the U.S. There were 755 travel-associated cases and one laboratory case
reported. In total, 234 pregnant women in the U.S. had been diagnosed with Zika
Zika is actively transmitted via mosquitos in dozens of
countries in the Caribbean and South America as well as on some Pacific islands
and Cape Verde, Africa. (For an updated list, visit CDC's website.)
With the virus’ prevalence in the Caribbean, agents have
noticed a shift in pregnant travelers away from that area.
Lynn Ciccarelli, of Pittsburgh-based Bella Vacations, said
many babymoon travelers who would have been interested in the Caribbean are
instead heading north to destinations such as Canada, Montana and Niagara Falls
or west to California. They are even going as far as the Maldives and Tahiti.
That shift is unusual, she said, considering “it’s so much
cheaper and so much easier to go to the Caribbean.”
Hand is also seeing travelers heading to the coast in
California, with Hawaii and the Florida Keys also popular destinations.
“My goal is to educate my clients the best that I can and be
prepared to have alternate locations for them,” she said.
Hawaii is a popular alternative destination all around. Tara
McCoy, with South Carolina-based Two Sisters Travel, said about half her
business consists of honeymoon and babymoon travel, and she has sent nearly all
her clients to Hawaii in lieu of the Caribbean.
“Most of our clients that we plan honeymoons for, or
babymoons, are primarily looking for warm, tropical, Caribbean-type
destinations, so that really kind of limits you with the areas with [active
transmission of] Zika,” she said. “I mean, it’s pretty much the entire
Caribbean, so we’ve been pushing people to Hawaii.”
While some Caribbean islands do not yet have any reported
cases of active Zika transmission, since the virus was first discovered in
South America and the Caribbean it has been steadily spreading through the
area, and the CDC predicts the virus will continue to spread.
Some agents are still seeing interest from clients in
countries where the virus is being transmitted, but they are in areas with
Katie Rahr Kapel
For Katie Rahr Kapel, owner of Fargo, N.D.-based Mode
Travel Agency, Hawaii has been a popular Zika-free destination, but she said
her clients have also been comfortable traveling to some areas of Mexico,
particularly on the Pacific coast. Usually, the Caribbean side of Mexico is
more popular, she said.
Darcy Allen of Travel by Darcy, a babymoon specialist based
in New Hampshire, said many of her clients are taking three- to five-night
trips to locations closer to home, such as weekend getaways to Canadian cities
and islands, including Victoria Island. Alaska and Seattle are also popular.
“I’m seeing a lot more stateside babymoons and of shorter
duration,” she said.
While babymooners have definitively switched their final
destination, agents are having mixed experiences with honeymooners and
destination weddings. Some said couples have changed their plans out of caution
for both themselves and their wedding guests.
“Because there are still so many unknowns about the virus
and the long-term effects, it is a big concern for a lot of couples,” Hand
said. “We have had to shift our thinking and become a little more creative for
the honeymoon and destination wedding market.”
Others, however, said their honeymoon business has been
“Caribbean [and] Mexico for families, for honeymoons, for
girlfriend getaways, for just general travel has stayed steady,” Allen said.
In fact, Stephanie Nye of Ohio-based Travel by Stephanie,
said Mexico and Caribbean locations remain “extremely popular” with
While most agents said their marketing practices remain the
same despite growing concern about Zika, Ciccarelli has taken a slightly
She frequently posts
destinations on her Facebook page and has shifted in recent months to featuring
Zika-free destinations, such as spots in the continental U.S. and Hawaii.
Meanwhile, agents said they were continuing to encourage
their clients to buy travel insurance, and the majority do purchase that
protection for their trip. McCoy, for example, said about 75% of her clients
purchase insurance, and between half and 75% of those choose
With most insurers, cancel-for-any-reason policies are the
only kind that enable a traveler to cancel a trip for fear of Zika. Some
insurers have clauses that allow clients who become pregnant after purchasing a
policy to cancel their trip.