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REPORT: Virgin Islands Airline Bookings Down 27% In One Month Due To Zika Virus Scare

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CHARLOTTE AMALIE – Airline bookings to the U.S. Virgin Islands have dropped sharply since health warnings were first issued for the territory on January 22, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.

In the one month since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put a travel alert on the territory for the Zika virus, airline bookings have dropped 27 percent, the travel data analysis company ForwardKeys said today.

The U.S. Virgin Islands and Martinique were the two Caribbean countries hurt the worst so far by health warnings issued due to confirmed cases of the Zika virus. St. Croix has four confirmed cases of the Zika virus.

Around the region of the Caribbean and Latin America  airline bookings have also slipped drastically since the CDC warned pregnant women against travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading,  ForwardKeys said.

Bookings to regions hit by the mosquito-borne virus fell some 3.4 per cent from a year ago between Jan 15, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory, and Feb 10, the report found.

A move by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb 1 to call the Zika outbreak an international emergency appeared to accelerate the slide, with bookings plunging 10 percent between the WHO announcement and Feb 10, according to the report.

The study, which analysed around 14 million daily travel agency transactions made via global ticket distributors, provides early evidence of Zika’s potentially broad impact on travel demand to certain Latin American countries.

Before the CDC warning, bookings were up 4.9 per cent during December and early January to the same destinations from a year ago, the report said.

Scientists are investigating a potential link between Zika infections of pregnant women and more than 4,000 suspected cases in Brazil of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.

American Airlines Group Inc, which has the widest Latin American network among U.S. peers, on Friday reiterated a late-January comment by its president that it has seen no material change to flight bookings.

Its president Scott Kirby said at the time that identifying bookings lost due to Zika would be difficult because unit revenue already was down some 40 percent to Brazil because of the country’s economic crisis.



According to the ForwardKeys study, there were three percent fewer bookings made to Brazil between Jan 15 and Feb 10 versus a year before.

Tourist hotspot Martinique also saw steep decline like the Virgin Islands did with a 24 per cent loss of airline bookings — two of the worst-affected Caribbean areas.

“We have to watch (for developments on the virus) because if it really should explode, obviously it will have an effect on all of the Caribbean routes,” Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos said in an interview Thursday.

Norwegian is marketing some tickets from New York to Martinique at $49, compared with lows of $79 it sold in the summer. Kjos said the company has yet to see Zika hamper bookings.

The CDC issued a travel warning on Puerto Rico on Jan. 1, 2016 due to the Zika virus.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean region since 1989. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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