Hoteliers in honeymoon destinations are feeling the Zika fallout the most. Unless research gets underway, the impact could get worse.
This summer was the summer of weddings for me, which means I’ve gotten to be a part of the planning process for three couples.
I’m either really lucky or really unlucky, depends on how you look at it. I’ll tell you one thing though, my bank account makes me inclined to lean toward the latter.
All jokes aside, I’ve very much enjoyed watching three couples go through the same journey I took last October. A couple of weekends ago, I celebrated one of those weddings. As we were getting ready for the day, the bridal party started chatting about honeymoon plans. The bride proceeded to bring up Zika and how she and the groom decided to head to Mexico as opposed to their original plan, which was to spend a week in the Bahamas.
This was the third occasion I’ve heard friends say they were changing their travel plans because of Zika. One of the bridesmaids in the party also mentioned how she and her husband were planning to start a family soon but that her doctor told them not to go south of the Mason-Dixon Line—which forms part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia—within six months of trying to conceive.
I thought that this advice was extremely cautious, and then I started to wonder how many doctors are giving women this advice. The fact of the matter is that we still know very little about the Zika virus, and until we do, travel will suffer. Particularly the Caribbean honeymoon destinations.
Surprisingly enough, hoteliers don’t seem to be overly concerned yet, and maybe that’s a valid reaction. For now. But I think it’s difficult to measure the Zika impact because there are other factors that contribute to hotel performance. For example, in a report from Hotel News Now’s Danielle Hess, sources said a weakened Canadian dollar and a blizzard that hit the East Coast feeder markets affected performance in the region.
In that same report, the president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico said that over the last 90 days, 35 groups have canceled their trips to the island. By providing some transparency to travelers, Meet Puerto Rico was able to book 57 new pieces of business for the same 90-day period in which the cancellations occurred.
This is a perfect example of what’s going on with the widespread Zika panic. The biggest issue affecting travel to the Caribbean region is misinformation and bad publicity. It doesn’t help that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps issuing warnings regarding Zika.
Hotel CEO reactions to all the media attention have been varied. During a “Coffee Talk” session at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson said the true impact of Zika was that it’s “not that bad.” On the other hand, Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, told HNN’s Jeff Higley in a separate interview that Zika is particularly hurting the weddings and honeymoons markets. In Apple Leisure Group’s case, that market is 5% below what it was last year.
We’ve written a handful of stories on Zika, and the general consensus is that it’s fear, not reality, pushing travelers to avoid the Caribbean region. But how can the hotel industry help squash those fears? I know some hotel companies have enacted strict protocols to help axe any mosquito breeding grounds, but how do we educate the general public when we can’t even get funding to research the virus?
Until the world gets a handle on Zika and its effects, I believe hoteliers will see more and more drop-off. Especially as more countries in the Caribbean and South America enter their rainy season. A good plan of action is to make sure you’re communicating with guests past, present and future. Let them know what you’re doing at the property level to combat the risk.
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