Expectant couples avoiding Latin America, other Zika hotspots

Wed Feb 3, 2016 10:15am EST
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By Jeffrey Dastin and Malathi Nayak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Expectant couples planning "babymoon" vacations are increasingly steering clear of Latin America and the Caribbean amid warnings about a suspected link between a Zika virus outbreak in the region and birth defects, travel agents say.

Airlines and hotel chains say it is too early to tell if the Zika epidemic is affecting bookings. But some “babymooners” - parents-to-be taking last-hurrah vacations - have backed out of trips and changed itineraries.

“There’s been a lot of cancellations,” said Lauren Machowsky, a travel advisor at New York-based SmartFlyer. “Some people are freaked out."

Machowsky, who is herself expecting a child and called off a planned vacation to Anguilla, said she is redirecting a lot of people to Florida and pointing clients to travel warnings issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I refer them to the CDC website and say, ‘Listen, this is my experience. I was going away and had to cancel,’” Machowsky said.

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak an emergency because of evidence that the mosquito-borne virus is linked to a spike in birth defects in Brazil. The current outbreak has spread to at least 25 countries and territories, most of them in the Americas. The CDC has advised pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with an active Zika outbreak.

Parenting website babycenter.com asked pregnant readers with plans to travel to Zika-affected areas if they would change course. About half of 1,118 respondents said they planned to cancel, and 27 percent said they were keeping their plans. The rest were undecided.

New Hampshire-based travel agent Darcy Allen, of Travel by Darcy, said she’s had a handful of cancellations and estimated 80 percent of her babymoon clients are avoiding Mexico.   Continued...

People read zika virus flyers from an information campaign by the Chilean Health Ministry at the departures area of Santiago's international airport, Chile January 28, 2016.  REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado