Zika affects plans for destination weddings, tourism

Beth J. Harpaz
Associated Press

Some travelers are trading in Caribbean and Latin American vacations for ski trips and Hawaii as they rethink destination weddings, babymoons and other getaways in light of the Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne virus can cause mild illness, but some travelers are worried about a possible link between the virus and babies born with smaller-than-normal heads, mostly in Brazil.

With billions of tourism dollars at stake, Caribbean and Central American business and health officials are scrambling to protect an industry under threat from the virus.

“It’s a concern of everyone,” said Guadalupe Monge, a travel agent with Miami-based Costamar travel agency. “I’d say 100 percent of our customers are asking about Zika. They want to know how bad it is. Is it safe to travel? Can they change their tickets?”

Monge estimates that the agency, which organizes trips and tours throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, has lost about 20 percent of its business as news of Zika has increased.

The timing is terrible, as Carnival season is picking up and spring break season is around the corner. Both draw tens of thousands to the region.

Dr. Brian Levine, a New York City fertility doctor, “spent the majority of the last week counseling patients about (the) Zika virus. I’ve had to have discussions about canceling babymoons, canceling trips before starting in vitro fertilization and even having husbands provide a frozen semen sample because they plan on traveling to a Zika-affected region for work.”

Travel agency owner Sandy Anderson helped a couple plan a Hawaii getaway rather than the Caribbean because they were “uncomfortable” with the risks posed by Zika.

“We also have a destination wedding going out in about two weeks to Mexico, and two couples canceled because both of the women are expecting babies,” said Anderson, owner of Travel Leaders Riverdale in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

Hung Thai, an engineer who lives in the Seattle area, is maintaining plans for a December wedding in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. “The biggest point we’ll be making to our guests is to buy travel insurance,” he said. He and his fiancee, Lina Jiang, are telling friends who are starting families that “we’re absolutely OK if they cancel.”

McClatchy Washington bureau contributed.