Zika-related travel warnings for tourists, like the one issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show little impact on tourism, based on available data for other Caribbean Islands.
Cayman’s Public Health Department last week confirmed two cases of Zika had been transmitted by mosquitoes in Cayman, leaving tourism officials concerned about potential impacts on the tourism economy in the Islands. Tourism industry leaders say they are monitoring the likely effect of the Zika virus on tourism numbers in the wake of the CDC’s travel warning, but do not expect it to have a big impact.
“Now more than ever, it is important for residents and businesses to adhere to the prevention practices outlined by the Public Health Department and the Mosquito Research Control Unit,” the Department of Tourism said in a press release last week.
Looking at some examples around the Caribbean, most islands did not see any significant impact after confirming local transmission of Zika. In January, the CDC issued a Level 2 travel warning for the Dominican Republic, the same type of warning issued for Cayman. Despite the warning, air arrivals in the Dominican Republic continued to climb between 5 percent and more than 8 percent each month compared to the year before.
As of May, cruise arrivals in the Dominican Republic were up by more than 20 percent.
In the middle of February, the CDC issued a travel warning to Aruba, seen as one of Cayman’s direct competitors for high-end stay-over tourism. Stay-over tourism grew by more than 6 percent in March, but then leveled out in April and shrank by almost 8 percent in May compared to the year before, according to the most recent data available.
Aruba’s cruise passenger arrivals were up by 20 percent as of May.
Barbados, which has had a CDC travel warning in place since late January, has seen year-over-year growth in every month except April, including a more than 9 percent jump in May over the year before.
James Andrews, a tourism industry watcher with Integra Realty Resources in Cayman, said seven of 26 jurisdictions in the Caribbean have reported declines in tourist arrivals this year.
“Most declines were expected and part of a longer term trend,” he said, pointing to places like Trinidad, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Haiti, which have other problems contributing to slowing tourism numbers.
“My overall feeling is that, so far, Zika has affected tourism from pregnant women, which is a tiny portion of the market,” he said, adding, “not enough to significantly impact tourism.”
So far this month, the CDC has issued Level 2 travel warnings for several jurisdictions in the Caribbean, including Cayman, Turks and Caicos, and Antigua and Barbuda.
The warnings caution pregnant women about avoiding unnecessary travel to places with local Zika transmission and advise travelers to avoid mosquito bites and practice safe sex. When travelers return home, the CDC says, they should still avoid mosquitoes when they get home to prevent potentially transmitting the virus to local mosquito populations.
Markus Mueri, who runs NM Ventures, owner of several restaurants in the Cayman Islands including Deckers and Abacus, said, “I don’t worry too much. I assume Rio was very concerned about it and it seems hundreds of thousands don’t really care. Every other year, we have a different kind of issue. People seem to have to talk about something.”
John Cardona, director of sales and marketing at the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, which is due to open in November, said the issue was not having an impact on the hotel’s pre-opening bookings. He said, “We, of course, are following the Zika news and happy to report that our bookings have not been affected from the U.S. due to any recent ink.”
Cayman Compass reporter James Whittaker contributed to this story.