The sudden outbreak of the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as the swine flu, caught the world by surprise, causing opinions to become unsubstantiated rumors over the health risks currently associated with travel. Luxury travel network, Virtuoso, has reached out to its 6,000+ travel advisors and 1,200 preferred travel providers to get the facts on travel now.
Most travel providers are well-versed in issues of public health, having weathered previous bouts with SARS, avian flu and the occasional report of Norwalk virus. Virtuoso’s travel providers have reported precautionary measures already in place, and have escalated their practices to counter potential risks to passengers. Cruise lines instituted global screening of all passengers for flu-like symptoms in addition to their standard sanitation and on-board medical protocols; many are also bypassing ports in Mexico through mid- to end of May. Airlines have reported use of air filtration systems similar to those found in hospitals, and they employ crews trained in handling passengers who become ill. Many airlines and hotels have temporarily waived change fees and are offering some refunds for travel to Mexico.
Virtuoso says its professional travel advisors have seen few cancellations, with most of their clientele redirecting trips from Mexico to the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic in particular. The travel network states that while the flu’s effect on humans is undeniably tragic, one of the very real casualties of this outbreak has been the already ailing economy. Mexico City alone is estimating losses at over $60 million a day. The SARS epidemic in 2003, while equally short-lived, cost the world’s economy $40 billion dollars. Travel and tourism is a cornerstone for many countries’ financial well-being, contributing nearly 10 percent to the world’s economy, as well as helping maintain the world’s cultural and historical heritage and supporting the preservation of our natural environment.
“Most travelers understand their role as global citizens and Virtuoso’s clients, who are affluent and international travelers, reflect this philosophy, knowing that their travel is beneficial to their families and the world’s well-being,” said Kristi Jones, president of Virtuoso. Jones’ statement is supported by WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, who said in reference to the 2003 SARS epidemic, “Border controls do not work. Travel restrictions do not work. There was much more economic disruption caused by their measures than there was public health benefit.”