It's time to combat irrational Zika fears

Zika Virus Mosquitoe

Don’t fear the Zika.

I know it’s tempting, but my hunch is this ‘health crisis’ is exactly like every other potential travel industry damaging disease: a blown-out-of-proportion distraction that keeps us from thinking about the real issues.

That is why it is time for the major hotel companies and the AH&LA to help get the facts to the traveling population or risk losing potential profits that could damage international travel for years to come.

Manufactured Crisis

Zika, like H1N1 and the Asian flu, captures headlines. But these manufactured ‘crises’ typically do significantly more financial damage to tourism than physical harm to victims. It’s an unfortunate and sickly side effect of the 24-hour news media required to feed the content beast designed to drum up viewers, listeners or readers. The phenomenon drives advertising, pays the bills and perverts events that 20 years ago wouldn’t even muster a headline.

Obviously, the prescription to solve this health issue is more cowbell, but that common sense solution aside, we must as an industry set aside irrational fears created by cash grabbing corporations and dispel travel fears and misinformation.

It may not be fun, but ignoring this issue and hoping it will go away is kind of like expecting MSNBC to not take Donald Trump to task for every one of his tweets.

Here's what we know: The one subset of the population—pregnant women—must heed every warning, but for most people, the worry is unfounded.

So I am with you NBC’s Savannah Guthrie of the Today Show, for choosing not to go to Brazil this summer because of potential pregnancy concerns, but not with Major League Baseball (Marlins v. Pirates) that cancelled a two-game series in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, The U.S. Soccer Federation, which typically sees grown men rolling around on the ground camping up the slightest injury, went ahead and stuck to their Puerto Rico schedule. No wonder that sport is on the rise when baseball is edging ever closer to irrelevance for most Americans.

Puerto Rico Fights Back

“This has been a direct threat and challenge to our commitment to the industry. It is a very challenging scenario,” Milton Segarra, president and CEO, Meet Puerto Rico, told me last week, noting that less than one-quarter of one percent of the island’s population has contracted the virus.

“This is not an actual crisis. It is more of the way it’s been presented in the media that has been exaggerated. The industry got hit and we were affected because people postponed and canceled trips,” he added.

Seggara said, while there were some cancellations, his organization has hit back hard against misinformation and are being rewarded for their efforts.  He said in the 90-day window between March and May, 63 percent more business was secured including 57 new pieces, representing more than 25,000 room nights and millions in economic impact to the Puerto Rican economy.

Bigger Olympic Threat

Meanwhile, down in Brazil, where the Olympics are being held in August without Guthrie, several athletes have already withdrawn from competition. There is something to fear in Brazil, but it isn’t Zika. Athletes should be significantly more concerned with super bug bacteria in the city’s waterways. It’s an environmental disaster hardly being addressed. And it could bring significant harm to any athlete participating in a water sport not in a man-made swimming pool.

What, then, are you scared of?

How do you perceive the Zika threat? Drop me a line here at [email protected] Or find me on Twitter @TravelingGlenn.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.

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