Q24N (Reuters) The spread of the Zika virus today could threaten the operations of airlines in the Americas by discouraging travel to the region, said the director general of the Association of International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tony Tyler.
“A number of members have expressed concern that they may already be seeing some effect on travel, particularly in the Americas,” he said. “When we publish (traffic) numbers, particularly I think the regional numbers for January, perhaps there will be the first indication of that.”
Tyler could not comment on what kind of impact the airlines were seeing, whether destination switches by travelers or lower bookings overall.
Bookings to Zika-hit parts of the Americas fell 3.4 percent from a year ago between Jan. 15, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for pregnant women, and Feb. 10, according to a report last week by travel data analysis company ForwardKeys, a travel data analysis company. See Impact of Zika Air Booking Situation for Affected Areas
Top airlines have said identifying any bookings shift from Zika would be difficult because unit revenue already is down to places such as Brazil because of the country’s economic crisis.
Some air ticket prices are falling nonetheless. The lowest fares to debt-strapped San Juan, Puerto Rico have fallen 22 percent on average from a year ago, according to an early February analysis of six of the busiest U.S. domestic routes to the island’s capital by Harrell Associates.
Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in babies. Brazil said it has confirmed more than 580 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating an additional 4,100 suspected cases of microcephaly.
In Costa Rica, the Tourism Board – Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), does not report any major drop in tourist arrivals, the Ministry of Health announcing a preventive strike against the Zika in 31 of the 81 cantones, to prevent an epidemic.