Fear of Zika in Caribbean May Lead to Huge 2017 for Hawaii Tourism

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When we sat down with George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, earlier this year, he refused to use the word “benefit” when asked if Hawaii was taking advantage of the Zika scare that has kept scores of travelers away from the Caribbean and other comparable destinations to Hawaii in 2016.

“That’s not necessarily a word I would use when it comes to a serious disease like Zika,” he told us back then. “I don’t like the idea of benefitting from something like that. But I will say that we are seeing people choose Hawaii over other destinations that may be affected by Zika.”

And that’s pretty much the consensus you will find if you speak to just about every Hawaii supplier and operator.

Back in September, Kimberly Daley, who was at the time the senior vice president of sales strategy for Pleasant Holidays, told Travel Agent that Journese, Pleasant Holidays' luxury division, had not seen Zika impact Hawaii bookings.

“The Millennial set is the worried one,” says Daley, who has since left Pleasant Holidays to become the CEP and president of Mountain Travel Sobek. “We have just been focusing our teams in educating advisors on how to help a client relocate his or her trip. We have had very few cancellations, but we have had a lot of movement with destinations.”

The New York Post has also recently reported that many travelers they spoke to are opting for Hawaii over the Caribbean. And they have the numbers to back it up.

According to the New York Post report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reports that more than 200 locally acquired Zika transmissions have occurred so far in Florida, and more than 33,000 in Puerto Rico. The number of infections in other Caribbean islands, it notes, vary. Thus far, Hawaii has seen no locally acquired cases, according to the report. 

Also, a Delta representative told the New York Post that the industry has seen an increase in passenger demand to Hawaii from New York in the last year. And the Four Seasons Maui says the hotel’s New York guests jumped up 3.5 percent since last year, according to the report.

In early October, Hawaii Island confirmed its first travel-related case of the Zika mosquito virus. According to a West Hawaii Today report, a single imported case of the Zika virus on Hawaii Island was confirmed by the state Department of Health’s Hawaii Island District Health Office and the County of Hawaii.

It marked the first travel-related case of Zika in Hawaii County this year confirmed by the DOH State Laboratories Division, according to the report.

However, the Hawaii resident has a history of recent travel to the South Pacific, and is past the point of being infectious to mosquitoes, officials said. It should be noted that the destinations that pose the biggest Zika threats are those that actually have the Zika-carrying mosquito. These are usually tropical destinations that are home to a rain forest. 

But Zika transmission from humans is easily preventable. Basically, safe sex is the easiest way to avoid transmission from a human. It should also be noted that the infected resident is past the point of being able to pass it to a mosquito, which could have made the situation a lot worse.

For the full New York Post report, click here and keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Hawaii news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent’s Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike.