The Zika and Ebola viruses have caused enough global scare to have them declared global health emergencies by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2016 and 2014 respectively.
In both occasions, the pronouncements sent the travel industry into disarray with tourists either cancelling or postponing their trips and costing travel companies’ large amounts of money in managing the situation.
Disruptions to tour operations
“We had to totally move our operations from Africa to focus on Latin America due to the Ebola virus.” Jessica Herbst-Farley, travel consultant with 2by2 Holidays told Westminster World. The company was part of hundreds of exhibitors at this year’s London Destinations Show where a number of travel companies operating in the Americas and Africa told Westminster World they were getting a lot of enquiries about the threats from Ebola and the Zika viruses.
“People just do not understand the scale of Africa” said Robert Ferguson, Managing Director of Real Africa safaris: “No matter how much you try to make them understand that West and East Africa are thousands of miles away from Southern Africa, in their minds this does not translate to safety.”
Bongani Dlamini with Swaziland Tours told Westminster World that the Ebola virus had not affected travels to the southern African country in a significant way due to a lot of communication work having been done. This he said had ensured that media reports were not misconstrued as meaning that the whole continent was affected in the same magnitude.
Despite the WHO Emergency Committee of International Health Regulations (2005) releasing a statement stating that it had found no justification to impose trade and or travel restrictions that would help prevent the spread of the Zika virus, declaring that the situation meets conditions for a Public Health Emergency of international concern has not helped much to put traveller’s minds at ease.
A cautionary tweet sent out by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning travellers to consider postponing trips to areas reported as Zika affected, has not done much to calm holiday makers’ nerves either.
CDC tweet advising pregnant women to postpone trips to Zika affected countries
In response, travellers also took to twitter to express frustration at the fact that they were failing to get refunds on pre-booked travels as agencies were accusing them of being responsible for choosing to cancel their holidays. A blogger, Victoria, wrote on her platform that a planned trip to San Pancho had to be cancelled because: “There’s no apparent consensus, but in the face of terrifying consequences, we’re afraid to take the risk.”
Business as usual
Meanwhile travel agencies to Latin America told Westminster World that while there had been more than usual enquiries over health safety issues due to the Zika virus, there were yet to be significant travel cancellations.
“We are taking no extraordinary contingency measures on this issues except the usual advice for people to use repellents, dress appropriately and for pregnant women to avoid travelling for the time being.” said a travel consultant with Bespoke Brazil, a travel agency working in Brazil.
Despite this, Reuters reported an 81% surge in insurance sales for trips to Latin America compared to the same time in 2015. Large hotel chains like the Hilton Hotels and Marriot International have since released statements on the precautionary measures they are taking to control the disease and its impact at their resorts.
Insure and Go confirmed to Westminster World that there were no restrictions to travel insurance on medical conditions related to the Zika Virus, as long as no travel warnings had been issued to clients before departure by respective Foreign Country Offices.
A Good To Go Insurance sales consultant expressed similar sentiments stating that pregnant women were however not covered.
“We will not restrict any insurance claims by clients travelling to Zika prone countries as long as there has been no travel warning from the FCO. However it’s a different case with pregnant women. If they are to suffer any birth defects related to Zika after a trip, we cannot assist them as there is a clear cautionary statement advising them not to travel to these areas currently” she said.
This too has been met with some criticism especially in Latin America where most precautionary measures from condom use, to contraception has been targeted at women with little messaging on what men can be doing to help curb the virus. All this means couples planning to having holidays together or to conceive while on holiday have to postpone their plans and or think of alternative measures.
Meanwhile the world is hoping for a similar but quicker outcome to the Zika as for the Ebola virus. A vaccine and affected areas to soon be declared virus free. While this may take time, it seems it has not stopped affected countries like Brazil from moving on with earlier plans to host the just ended Rio Carnival and the Summer Olympics later in August.
Sub Edited by Jordaania Andima