Travel industry leaders urge Congressional action on Zika

(The U.S. Senate failed to pass the third potential bill that would provide funding to help fight the spread of the Zika virus due to partisan differences over the bill's contents.)

The U.S. Senate failed to pass the third potential bill that would provide funding to help fight the spread of the Zika virus. Senate Democrats defeated the $1.1-billion bill 52-46 despite the disease reaching an estimated 56 locally transmitted cases in Florida. 

The Democrats claimed that a provision in the bill was engineered to prevent Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico, one of the regions hit hardest by Zika, from receiving new funding to fight the spread of the disease.

In response to the political gridlock, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Travel Association sent a letter to Congress urging swift action to halt the spread of Zika. The letter was signed by 127 hotels, state tourism offices and other travel organizations. 

“The health, safety and security of our guests and employees is paramount to the hotel industry, as it should be to members of Congress,” AH&LA president and CEO Katherine Lugar said in a statement. “As the threat of the Zika virus grows, petty politics and Congressional gridlock shouldn’t get in the way of approving the necessary funding to support new research, vaccines and advanced solutions to mosquito control.” 

“I've been all over Florida and the country listening to people's concerns about Zika, and no one can comprehend why the U.S. Congress has left this unaddressed,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow. “What's most perverse is that the hold-up isn't even about the funding amount—it's about using legislative procedure to score political points in an election year. This is an 'only in the Beltway' moment if there ever was one.” 

An excerpt from the letter includes: “A failure by Congress to act quickly jeopardizes not only our citizens’ health, but also the U.S. economy. The number of individuals infected with the Zika virus has grown and there have been multiple instances of local transmission. The impact to the travel industry will have adverse and widespread economic ramifications…. Funding for Zika efforts will ramp up local responses to the growing threat, support an acceleration of research and development on vaccines as well as advanced approaches to mosquito control. According to the National Institutes of Health and CDC, money will run out at the end of September so it is imperative that Congress makes funding a first priority when it returns from August recess.” 

Since Zika's appearance in Florida, occupancy has been down while the state's tourism officials search for an way to calm traveler fears and address the issue at the same time. Major tourism drivers such as Walt Disney World have taken to handing out mosquito repellent to guests.