Cruise Agents Say Zika Has Created Strong Concerns, Few Cancellations

Cruise passengers on a ship at PortMiami enjoy views of the Miami skyline; Miami-Dade County now has two Zika hot spots in portions of Wynwood and Miami Beach. // Photo by Susan J. Young 

Nearly 27 percent of front-line cruise selling agents and agency owners and managers taking a Travel Agent magazine survey say their clients with existing cruise bookings are “very concerned” about the Zika virus and say customers also have rescheduled or cancelled an existing cruise booking. 

That’s one tidbit from Travel Agent's late August survey of cruise sellers who completed a 10-question poll. 20 agents completed the survey. Here's what they said about the potential impact on existing cruise bookings: 

  • "Yes, my clients with cruises already booked are very concerned. Some have cancelled or rescheduled their upcoming cruises." (nearly 27 percent)
  • "Yes, my clients with cruises already booked are concerned. So far, though, no clients have cancelled or rescheduled their upcoming cruises." (32 percent)
  • "No, none of my clients are overly concerned and none have rescheduled or cancelled." (42 percent)

In cases where agents did cite Zika-related cancellations, most indicate the numbers are small. "I had only one family cancel due to the Zika virus because there were two passengers who are trying to get pregnant,” emphasized Patricia LoBracco, an independent travel agent with Avoya Travel in Margate, FL. 

From another perspective, “only one honeymoon couple changed their plans,” said Debby Hughes, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Big Bear City, CA

Still, 60 percent of all agents responding had some clients expressing Zika concerns. Those include Jack Fingerman, travel agent, Cruises Inc., in Mount Laurel, NJ, and Tricia Gonzalez, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, North Bellmore, NY, although neither of those retailers had any cancellations as yet as a result of Zika. 

Forty-two percent of agents in our survey reported no Zika impact on existing cruise bookings. // Photo by Susan J. Young

But 42 percent of travel agents in our survey reported no Zika impact on their business in terms of existing cruise bookings, as they said no one has cancelled or rescheduled. 

From one executive's perspective (not a part of the survey), John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, said his group also has polled both agents and consumers this year and “the overall impact that Zika is having on travel remains rather minimal.”

Lovell said agents are advising customers who are pregnant or who wish to become pregnant on alternate destinations. He stresses that the CDC has repeatedly been saying that most others who travel to regions with mosquito-borne Zika cases will never display any symptoms if they’re bitten.

"Zika just has not been as large of an issue as most initially thought," Lovell said, noting that includes "clients whose honeymoons and destination weddings are being planned by our agents.” 

Zika Is on the Move

However, Zika is on the move and agents say they're monitoring the situation closely. In addition to Zika areas in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the CDC says there are two Zika hot spots in South Florida, both in Miami-Dade County.

These include the Wynwood arts district section of Miami and a section of Miami Beach that includes much of South Beach and Lincoln Road, famous for its restaurants and bars.

To battle the disease, the state of Florida and local authorities have undertaken an aggressive mosquito control program; pesticide spraying is happening both on the ground and by airplane. 

Visitors and residents alike are being advised to use mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants as precautionary measures. To learn more about how cruisers boarding a ship in South Florida can protect themselves against Zika, visit the CDC's dedicated Florida travel page.

Photo by AkilRolle/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images 

The CDC has its strongest Zika cautionary advisory for pregnant women. A Zika-infected mother can transmit the virus -- which causes serious birth defects involving the brain -- to an unborn child.  

But when specifically asked about cruises that depart from South Florida and any Zika impact, 70 percent of agents who took our survey said Zika was not an issue in terms of client concerns.

Only 20 percent had clients specifically concerned about travel to South Florida for cruising, among them Felipe Bossans of Vacations Done Right, an independent agency affiliated with Avoya Travel Network, of Miami Beach. Yet, he's seen no cancellations.

In fact, in the survey, only one of 20 agents had any clients who cancelled a cruise departing from South Florida based on their fears about Zika. 

An Evolving Situation

Scientists say they just don't really know that much about the impact of Zika beyond its effect on pregnant women, but some feel it may be more problematic for the general population than originally indicated. 

CNN recently wrote an article about a new study that lends support to one of the biggest fears about the Zika virus – that it might increase the risk of Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome. In fact, CDC experts headed to Puerto Rico earlier this year to study whether the mosquito-borne Zika virus will cause an increase in cases of Guillain-Barre

Separately, a recent study by the Rockefeller University has linked Zika to such adult medical issues as memory loss. Still, much knowledge about Zika is unknown and rumors swirl.

For the latest official information, consult the CDC website:

Future Cruise Sales

The Miami skyline view from a cruise ship private balcony. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Beyond any impact on existing bookings, we also asked the travel agents taking our survey:  “Has the fear of Zika impacted your cruise sales this summer?”

Agents answered this based on the current cruise selling environment for potential new bookings:

  • Yes, I believe Zika has impacted my cruise sales - 30 percent
  • No, Zika has not impacted my cruise sales – 60 percent
  • I’m not sure whether Zika has or has not impacted cruise sales – 10 percent

One of those who said Zika has had some impact on sales is Mathy Wasserman, co-owner of a Cruise Planners franchise agency in Los Angeles, but she also points to the resilience of the traveling public: "Clients are busy booking Hawaii, Tahiti and Alaska instead."

To help build sales, Wasserman will ramp up her marketing and advertising over the next few months, as will other agents including Lainey Melnick, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Austin, TX.

Retailers are telling us they're simply doing what they always do best – listening to customer concerns and questions, referring clients to the health experts (the CDC site), helping clients find alternative vacations if one global area is beyond their customer's comfort zone and adjusting their business to marketplace conditions.

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