Industry urged to provide balance on Zika 'hysteria'

Industry urged to provide balance on Zika 'hysteria'

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The industry has downplayed the “hysteria” surrounding the Zika virus, with Latin America specialists reporting only a handful of enquiries from concerned customers.

Elite Travel Group chief executive Neil Basnett described the media attention as “alarming” as news of the disease spreading across South and Central America and parts of the Caribbean dominated news headlines.

Advantage Travel Partnerships commercial director John Sullivan said he was not aware of any cancellations by customers of Advantage’s 500-plus members.

“The industry has acted responsibly and come out very early with advice before it became a big story,” he said.

Sullivan praised the industry’s response to the crisis, saying travel firms had a duty of care towards both customers and destinations affected by the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern on Monday after Zika was linked to infant brain damage called microcephaly.

The WHO declaration puts Zika, which is transmitted via Aedes mosquitoes, in the same category of concern as Ebola and means that aid will be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.

The Latin American Travel Association emphasised that no travel ban was in place and official bodies, including the WHO, the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and Abta, are advising only pregnant women to reconsider travelling to affected areas.

Women planning to get pregnant are being advised to seek medical advice before travelling.

In Brazil, where there have been about 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly since October, the government stressed the Rio Olympics would go ahead in August.

Other countries with known cases of the virus include Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico and Barbados. On Tuesday, the Foreign Office website added advice for Jamaica after reports of cases of the virus.

Basnett said: “The hysteria about the disease is alarming. “We should reassure customers that it is not life-threatening. The only complication is if you are pregnant. The travel industry is usually good at coping with situations like this and acts responsibly.”

Latin Routes director and co-founder Martin Johnson said: “We’re keeping our response low‑key at the moment. All holidays are going ahead. We’ve had three or four enquiries from people who said they are not going to look at Brazil anymore.”

A spokeswoman from Journey Latin America said: “We’ve had a few enquiries about it but we are following FCO advice and treating bookings on a case-by-case basis.”

Thomson, First Choice and Thomas Cook have waived amendment fees for pregnant women wanting to switch holidays away from countries affected by the virus. Cruise companies MSC Cruises, Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have adopted a similar policy.


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