It’s growing and getting stronger. This Zika virus news capsule is not easy for the travel and tourism industry professionals to swallow. As the mosquito-borne Zika virus enters into the United States, there’s a growing anxiety in the tourism industry.
Further, a warning from the WHO that the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” and that it’s now an international ‘public health emergency’ has global implications. Vacationers are now rethinking their travel plans, especially to most affected countries and territories that include Caribbean tourist places like Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and areas in Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Panama.
Though the Zika virus isn’t new and until last year, most outbreaks of this disease had been mild. However, triggered by El Niño-inflicted heavy rains and flooding, this mosquito-borne transmitted disease has now taken a lethal form and impacted the above mentioned regions. The threat is bigger with Zika believed to be linked to a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Amid rising concern over the Zika virus outbreak sweeping Latin America and probability that it could spread much farther, the travel industry has now started to react. Some travel companies like KK Travels Worldwide (that books honeymoon and babymoon trips) have already started feeling the brunt of the outbreak with a small number of cancellations every day. A few of them have even offered pregnant travelers with the option to postpone their booked trips, though any mass cancellations haven’t been reported as yet.
More so, this threat is overshadowing the Rio de Janeiro Olympics too. The organizers and their medical teams are urging athletes to join the Olympic games and giving assurances that only pregnant women (and not athletes) are at risk and that the potential threat seems like a distant one. The organizing committee is also planning to trim their other expenses and fund special initiatives to kill mosquitoes.
American Airlines have even offered pregnant travelers and their attendants the option to request a refund for canceled flights provided they produce their doctor’s prescription and note for the same.
JetBlue has offered refund or rebooking to customers, who’re skeptical about traveling to Zika-impacted regions. Even Virgin America has announced travelers with plans to fly to any of the airline’s Mexico destinations can get a refund or change their flight free of cost.
The sector most at risk in the affected region is the cruise ship business that witnessed 24.5 million cruise ship arrivals in the 30 territories of the Caribbean in 2014. The prime target audience for this business are the honeymooners and young couples (who may get pregnant while holidaying) – who’re believed to be most at risk.
However, there is another group of believers/companies in the tourism sector such as Dover Beach Hotel on the Caribbean island of Barbados that seem unfazed by the Zika outbreak though they’re taking all preventive measures. They’re not bothered with the current travel advisories since they are experiencing one of the busiest tourist seasons in recent years with 100% occupancy.
Dover Beach Hotel owners are joined by other hotel owners and managers in the Caribbean who believe that the business is currently in good shape though the situation may change fast if the outbreak picks up the pace and the travelers fright traveling to the vacation destinations in the Caribbean region that sees tourism as its biggest driver of revenue. Some airlines and hotel chains find it too early to announce any dip in their bookings.
What should you do in this hour of crisis?
As a smart hotelier, you have to develop a two-pronged strategy that helps you:
- Emerge as a responsible tourism brand
- Drive better cash flow for your property
As a responsible travel/ tourism brand
A detailed contingency plan (inclusive of the crisis management processes) can help hotels and travel companies analyze the intensity of the situation and determine what can be done about this disease threat in their properties or for their businesses for minimal casualties.
For example, Hotel chain Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. is coordinating with local health authorities and following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prevention recommendations.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd and rival Carnival Corp have offered expectant mothers covered by the CDC advisories to defer cruises to a future date or choose an itinerary outside the impacted countries.
Some hotels (such as Cobblers Cove Hotel in Barbados) are leaving no stones unturned in taking precautionary measures such as anti-mosquito spraying every three weeks to combat the threat. The hotel acknowledges the plausible threat but has been appealing to the tourists for not pressing the panic button.
Drive better cash flow for your property
While you establish and maintain your responsible travel/tourism brand identity, it’s equally important to see that you don’t miss out on the revenue front for your property. To do so, you can take a couple of measures such as:
- Widen your distribution reach in order to reach more customers. As you face cancellations due to this disease outbreak, you need to be spot on with your distribution strategy and work out channel mix to optimize revenues.
- In cases like Zika outbreak when supply outgrows demand, you need to benchmark your competitors while holding back to your rates and not follow the pricing methodologies blindly. To accomplish this, you can choose a good rate intelligence software that fetches for you real-time, accurate and actionable competitor pricing data (from multiple new age and traditional sources) that will help you understand as to what levels you can drop your prices still maintaining your profit margins.
As much remains unknown about Zika, its spread and effects, let’s hope you as a hotelier do not have to feel the heat of this break and continue to see a spike in your hotel revenues and business growth.