How the Zika Virus Is Affecting Travel


The travel industry is beginning to react as vacationers rethink their trips amid growing concern over the Zika virus, the mosquito-borne disease that experts say is possibly linked to microcephaly in babies. The spread of the virus has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant against travel to affected areas, including popular Caribbean tourist destinations like Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and Barbados as well as areas in Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Panama.

As a result, domestic air carriers that have just finished adjusting passenger itineraries in the wake of a heavy winter storm in the Northeast are now doing so for sunnier destinations. Many airlines including United, American, JetBlue and Virgin America are offering refunds or free-of-charge flight changes for travelers who are planning to visit regions the C.D.C says are affected by the virus.

While many cruise lines are also offering travelers some leeway, hotels are largely not offering refunds. Although some have taken precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, they have not implemented any specific cancellation policies for guests who want to change their plans.

Despite the increasing swirl of media coverage about Zika, a few travel specialists say that many in the industry as well as the general public are unfamiliar with exactly what it is. It’s a different story for Kristen Korey Pike, the owner of the Atlanta-based consultancy KK Travels Worldwide, who said in a recent interview with The New York Times that she has had 10 cancellations in the last week for trips booked to the Caribbean. Most were babymoons — vacations that some parents take before the impending arrival of a baby. “My clients are alarmed,” she said.

In a separate interview with HLN TV, Pike emphasized the importance KK Travels Worldwide places on properly educating and advising travelers whose itineraries include visits to affected regions. “The most important thing we can do is present our clients with the facts and be proactive. We also advise that women speak to their doctors on how to proceed.”

Pike states that travel insurance may not mean a refund in these circumstances. “We always recommend it for our guests, but it may not cover cancellations due to Zika.”

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