Airline bookings to Latin America fall after US warning on Zika virus: Data

A banner is seen during an information campaign on Zika virus by the Chilean Health Ministry at the departures area of Santiago's international airport, Chile, on Jan 28, 2016.
A banner is seen during an information campaign on Zika virus by the Chilean Health Ministry at the departures area of Santiago's international airport, Chile, on Jan 28, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Airline bookings to parts of Latin America and the Caribbean have slipped globally since a United States public health agency warned pregnant women against travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading, travel data analysis company ForwardKeys said on Friday.

Bookings to regions hit by the mosquito-borne virus fell some 3.4 per cent from a year ago between Jan 15, when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory, and Feb 10, the report found.

A move by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb 1 to call the Zika outbreak an international emergency appeared to accelerate the slide, with bookings plunging 10 percent between the WHO announcement and Feb 10, according to the report.

The study, which analysed around 14 million daily travel agency transactions made via global ticket distributors, provides early evidence of Zika's potentially broad impact on travel demand to certain Latin American countries.

Before the CDC warning, bookings were up 4.9 per cent during December and early January to the same destinations from a year ago, the report said.

Scientists are investigating a potential link between Zika infections of pregnant women and more than 4,000 suspected cases in Brazil of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.

American Airlines Group Inc, which has the widest Latin American network among U.S. peers, on Friday reiterated a late-January comment by its president that it has seen no material change to flight bookings.

Its president Scott Kirby said at the time that identifying bookings lost due to Zika would be difficult because unit revenue already was down some 40 percent to Brazil because of the country's economic crisis.

According to the ForwardKeys study, there were 3 percent fewer bookings made to Brazil between Jan 15 and Feb 10 versus a year before.

Tourist hotspots with Zika outbreaks such as Martinique and the US Virgin Islands saw steeper declines at 24 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively.

"We have to watch (for developments on the virus) because if it really should explode, obviously it will have an effect on all of the Caribbean routes," Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos said in an interview Thursday.

Norwegian is marketing some tickets from New York to Martinique at US$49, compared with lows of US$79 it sold in the summer. Kjos said the company has yet to see Zika hamper bookings.