Zika casts a pall on some company getaways

It seemed like such a great idea: A company planned a business trip this winter to a warm place that would bring the entire staff together.

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But now, concerns about Zika are keeping 10 of the company's 50 employees home.

The company, Parse.ly, an analytics company that helps digital media sites understand their content trends, has employees working from different locations across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

A trip to a resort in the Dominican Republic was intended "to get everybody in the same location" for team-building, R&R and casual facetime, said Parse.ly CEO Sachin Kamdar.

In the past, Parse.ly had held retreats in Montreal, upstate New York, Savannah, Georgia and Florida, For this year, they offered a sales incentive to upgrade to the trip to a Caribbean destination if the company hit a certain target. "We did end up hitting that target," Kamdar said, and the Dominican Republic was chosen as the destination.

"The trip was supposed to be celebratory," Kamdar added. "But we found out a couple of weeks after booking that the Zika virus was spreading very aggressively in South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic was one of the places that was hit."

Parse.ly is going ahead with the trip, but "we have a variety of people at the company choosing to opt out because of health reasons."

The Zika virus is suspected of causing a rare but potentially devastating birth defect, an abnormally small head, which can indicate underlying brain damage. Brazil has reported an apparent increase in cases of that defect, called microcephaly, as Zika exploded in that country, although scientists haven't definitively proven the link.

Another company, netpure, which creates in-home Wi-Fi networks that are safe for children to use, had planned a cruise with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. But now the CEO, Jere Simpson, and his wife, who also works for netpure, are staying home because she's pregnant. Simpson also decided not to go without his wife because they have an 18-month-old son and he didn't want to her to handle household and childcare burdens alone.

But Simpson says they'll both regret missing the cruise, which is an annual trip for employees that is also attended by 25 people from one of netpure's biggest clients.

"We have their ear on the boat for a whole week," said Simpson. "We really dual-purpose it. Our employees love it. We give them the time off and pay for the trip. We get to both team-build and client-bond. I really believe in who our people are, and when our client sees them in a more casual setting, it builds trust."

While Zika concerns are keeping some workers from attending meetings and company retreats in affected locations, business travel experts say it does not yet appear to be having a broad impact.

"Planners are becoming concerned about it, but not to the point where there have been any major cancellations from our members," said Matthew Marcial, senior director of events for Meeting Planners International.

Jo Kling, president of Landry & Kling, which specializes in managing events on cruise ships, also said Zika concerns have "not come up and we're talking to clients every day."

For those Parse.ly employees who do make it to the Dominican Republic, Parse.ly is supplying them with an essential item, says Kamdar: "We're going to buy DEET for everybody."


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