The hospitality industry battles growing Zika threat to the U.S.
The Zika virus, spread by the daytime-active Aedis aegypti mosquitoes, is a continued threat to the nation’s hospitality and travel industries, especially in Southern or coastal states such as Florida where warmer temperatures permit near year-round breeding for the mosquito. Although often asymptomatic, Zika has confirmed links to neurological disorders in adults as well as the serious birth defect mycrocephaly, which leads to underdeveloped brains and small heads, among other health problems, in infants. And, despite a recent increase in federal funding to fight the spread of the virus in the United States, the hospitalty industry continues to vocalize its concerns over the growing threat to its guests and staff alike.
In February of this year, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding, however, this was followed by months of funding indecision within congress, prompting some in the hospitality industry to take further action. On September 7th, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and U.S. Travel Association sent a letter signed by 127 hotels, state tourism offices and other travel-related agencies to congressional leadership urging funding to be approved for research and development by the National Institutes of Health and CDC. This letter outlined the negative economic consequences of the virus to the nation’s travel industry, which “generates $2.1 trillion in economic output, is an economic engine driving job creation across the United States, and is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia”. It also advocates for the millions of people working in hospitality and travel who “could be put at very significant risk as a result of the virus.”
On September 28, Congress passed $1.1 billion in total funding to battle the Zika virus, according to a recent AH&LA press release, which praised this measure that will include funding for “mosquito control, response and readiness in high-risk areas, vaccine research and programs to ensure vaccines are available to the public quickly and safely; and health care for mothers and children experiencing health complications from Zika.”
This funding will be important to the stability of the travel industry, especially in states that are particularly vulnerable to the virus, such as Florida. A near year-round population of the aegis aegypti mosquito as well as a high volume of visitors from other Zika-affected countries makes Florida (and its booming hospitality industry) a central concern here. According to the CDC, as of October 12th, Florida had 153 locally-acquired, laboratory-confirmed Zika virus cases. Although the CDC lifted a travel advisory on the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami-Dade county that was initially linked to the local spread of Zika, there are wider fears that the disease will impact Florida’s $90 billion travel industry in the long term.
The timing of this recent funding is paramount, considering Hurricane Matthews recent affects along large swaths of the east coast. According to the recent Esquire Magazine article “How Hurricane Matthew Could Make the Zika Virus Exponentially Worse,” in addition to the devastation of the hurricane, the aftermath will leave immense amounts of standing water and wreckage where the mosquitos could breed and escalate. The hurricane will also bring in recovery crews from all over the United States, potentially exposing them before they head back home, further encouraging the spread of the virus.
While this recent $1.1 billion in funding is seen by many as step in the right direction, the hospitality industry continues its own fight to protect guests and employees alike. Industry-leaders like Disney are already fighting the spread of Zika, by offering their guests free mosquito repellent throughout its Orlando resorts and parks and filling in stagnant water so mosquitos won’t have easy access to breeding grounds. According to the Palm Beach Post, the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa is offering eco-friendly bug spray to all of their guests for free, and they recently installed a new outdoor spraying system for mosquitos and other insects. The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach also sprays on a daily basis for mosquitoes, and has always provided free mosquito spray for guests. Many other hotels, resorts, and hospitality businesses are following suit.