Zika’s spread is making travelers rethink that Florida vacation

A Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector sprays pesticide in a Miami Beach neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on August 24, 2016.

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A Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector sprays pesticide in a Miami Beach neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak on August 24, 2016.

Zika fears are biting into Florida’s $90 billion travel industry.

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifting a travel advisory on one neighborhood in Miami-Dade County that was linked to the spread of the Zika virus last week, there are signs travelers are going elsewhere.

Americans booking travel plans for the peak fall and winter vacation seasons are booking 30 percent fewer flights to Miami, 33 percent fewer flights to Tampa and over 15 percent less flights to Palm Beach, according to Allianz Global Assistance. The travel insurance group reviewed more than 940,000 American travel plans made during the month of August for trips to be taken from mid-November to mid-April next year and compared the results with the same period in 2015.

Overall, holiday makers are planning 15 percent fewer trips to the state of Florida, which is the second most visited in the United States. The Sunshine State welcomed more than 106 million out-of-state and international tourists last year, according to Visit Florida.

On Aug. 1, the CDC issued a travel warning to the North Miami neighborhood of Wynwood followed by a travel advisory to Miami Beach on Aug. 19, after locally spread cases of the mosquito-borne virus were discovered.

There were 43 locally acquired cases of Zika in Florida as of Sept. 21, according to the CDC. Additionally, more than 650 cases were reported in the state, as of that date, that were contracted through travel, the CDC said. That represents 20 percent of all the travel-related cases in the U.S.

Florida’s efforts to battle the spread claimed a victory last week when the CDC lifted the travel advisory to the Wynwood area after no new cases of the illness were reported in the area during the last 45 days. Forty-five days is the time it takes for three mosquito incubation periods to occur.

But for the state’s tourism economy, the Zika effects are still rippling through the rest of this year and next.

Bill Talbert, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau said the area has “seen some cancellations of future bookings in late 2016 and 2017” and hotel “room rates are lower for the same time period last year by approximately 0.8 percent.”

Miami will still host the largest U.S. contemporary art show, Art Basel, in December. The event, which usually attracts celebrities, the wealthy elite and art dealers, will still go ahead as planned despite the CDC’s travel warnings.

And while airlines are facing slower bookings, Carnival’s CEO Arnold Donald told CNBC Tuesday that Zika has not had any effect on their business.

“I think on the Zika concerns, it really didn’t impact us very much,” he said. “The reality is, every year there’s something — Zika this year, MERS, Ebola. Those things come up.”

Like many global cruise line operators, Carnival often sails out of Miami’s ports.

Walt Disney, which operates theme parks in Orlando, said earlier this month that the virus was having no real impact on cancellations or future bookings. Orlando is more than 200 miles north of the Miami area.

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