Zika Threatens Florida’s $67 Billion Tourism Revenue

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On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first-ever travel warning for a destination inside the United States. The warning is related to several Zika infections in a north Miami neighborhood and could pose a threat to Florida’s $67 billion tourism industry.

Florida is the top travel destination in the world, according to StateofFlorida.com, a website that is not affiliated with state government. If the virus should spread beyond its currently known location, it could threaten some of the state’s largest tourist attractions, like Disney World and Universal Orlando, along with such beachfront cities along the east coast as Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie.

The New York Times reported that JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) will allow refunds to travelers who are concerned about traveling to “Zika-impacted areas confirmed by the CDC.” For now, JetBlue’s offer only applies to the single neighborhood in Miami.

As of late Monday, 14 cases of the infection had been found after a door-to-door survey of some 200 households. CDC Director Tom Frieden said:

With the new information that there are active mosquitoes still in the area and additional Zika infections, we conclude that pregnant women should avoid this area – and make every effort to prevent mosquito bites if they live or work there. We apply the same criteria within and outside of the United States, and are working closely with the State of Florida and Miami health departments to provide preventive services, including mosquito control.

Florida Governor Rick Scott requested that the CDC send an emergency response team to help the state’s health department respond to the threat.

The potential impact on the state’s $67 billion tourism industry could be significant. Some portion of travelers will avoid the state altogether, while the state and federal governments have a thin line to walk: making the public aware of the dangers of the virus without scaring it away.

The Zika virus is particularly dangerous to pregnant women. The CDC travel guidance recommends that pregnant women not travel to the identified area and that pregnant women and their partners living in the area should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual transmission of the infection. See the full list of CDC recommendations. The virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect that causes a baby’s head to be smaller than other babies of the same sex and age.