Throughout 2016, there were widespread concerns among travelers about heading to the Caribbean region, as the Zika virus outbreak caused concern particularly among pregnant women. The mosquito-borne disease is linked to brain damage in fetuses. Fears were particularly heightened when the media reported there were more than 100 positive cases in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Given the number of countries and territories in the Caribbean that depend on tourism for their economic vitality, there were many worries that the virus would have devastating financial impacts.
However, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) providing a warning for pregnant women in April 2016 to avoid certain Caribbean nations, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) announced the industry “got off to a fast start” in 2016. According to the CTO’s announcement June 2, there was a 7.3 percent increase in the first quarter of the year over the same period in 2015. At the time, the CTO also said it expected tourist numbers to continue to increase throughout the year by a total of 4.5 to 5.5 percent.
Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who serves as commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands, stated there were initial cancellations of more than $250,000, but that overall the territory’s tourism industry was not particularly impacted.
Not all Caribbean nations and territories were lucky
Although the U.S. Virgin Islands managed to see healthy tourism in 2016, not all nations and territories in the Caribbean were so fortunate.
Puerto Rico, for example, had a 7 percent increase in tourism arrivals in January. After the CDC announcements, there was a 3 percent decline in February, a 5 percent decline in March and a 4 percent decline in April over the previous year. Additionally, about 41,000 room nights in Puerto Rico were canceled for up to two years—a loss of $28 million total through 2018. Many of these rooms were booked for business and convention purposes.
Cancellations across the region were much more prevalent among people of childbearing age. Fewer than 10 percent of travel agents reported having clients over 40 cancel their Caribbean trips, while 26 percent of agents reported having clients in their 20s or 30s do so.
Still, tourists did not seem too bothered with the Zika virus when surveyed. One national survey performed by Travel Leaders Group suggested that the “vast majority” of travelers were still opting to go through with their travel plans.
Overall, while the Zika virus may have caused a small dent in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ potential to have a huge year financially in the tourism industry, it does not appear to have had any significant adverse effects.
BoltNagi is a respected and established business law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.