Zika 'could be catastrophic' for tour operators ahead of Rio Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO -- If the Zika virus -- or fear of it -- keeps spreading, the head of a sports travel agency handling tour packages for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics fears for her business.

See Full Article

"It could be catastrophic," Jerri Roush, director of operations of Cartan Tours, told The Associated Press. "It's uncharted territory."

Hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors are expected for the Olympics in August, and there are concerns that some may stay away, frightened off by the mosquito-borne virus that is being linked to birth defects.

There has been a "very small decrease" in foreign tourists, the Brazilian tourist board said this week, though world health authorities have no restrictions on travel to the country.

"Zika already begins to damage Brazil tourism," read a full-page headline this week in Rio's O Globo newspaper.

Many of Cartan's clients are in Zika-affected areas in Latin America. It is the authorized Olympic ticket reseller for 36 countries including Mexico and much of Central and South America and the Caribbean -- the heart of the outbreak.

Roush said there have been a few inquiries about cancellations, but Cartan managing director Jay Price declined to give specifics.

"We've had a lot of package buyers, some have called to question it," Roush said. "But I don't know that we've seen a drastic fall in our sales."

Roush said the Los Angeles-based agency expected to take between 1,500-2,000 visitors to the Olympics, providing hospitality packages that can include tickets, accommodations, ground transportation, and translators. She said flights were usually not included.

She said the company had a "no-cancellation" policy that was being reviewed.

Roush raised the question of liability if Zika harms the company's income. "Is Brazil going to refund us our money from this?" she asked.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Friday, "We have to deal with (Zika), but there's a little overreaction at the moment."

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Friday, "There is no intention by (any) national Olympic committee to pull out from the Rio Olympic Games."

Another agency handling Olympic packages said if travellers are concerned, it's usually about security.

"I've never seen anything like this with a potential health crisis for a major event," said Anbritt Stengele, the president of Chicago-based Sports Traveler.

She said two clients had just delayed making their final bookings for packages of four and five people. Sports Traveler also has a no-refund policy.

Stengele said Olympic travellers were typically families -- unlike for Brazil's male-dominated 2014 World Cup -- who are sensitive to reports that visitors to Zika-infested areas might bring the virus home.

"Now it's becoming not just a Rio problem, but potentially a North American problem," she said.

She described Rio's ticket and lodging prices as "very expensive," which requires her company to make a large up-front investment.

She said four-star hotels were charging $800 to $1,500 per night, and at least one five-star in Barra da Tijuca -- near the Olympic Park -- was asking for $3,200 per night.

CoSport, which handles official Olympic ticket sales for the United States, Canada, Australia, Bulgaria, Britain, Sweden, Norway and Russia, did not answer email questions from AP. CoSport President Robert F. Long referred inquiries to the local Rio organizing committee, which has nothing to do with non-domestic ticket sales.

Its sister company Jet Set Sports, also located in Far Hills, New Jersey, declined to comment.

Airbnb, which is the official "alternative accommodation" sponsor for the Olympics, said pregnant women -- and women trying to become pregnant -- could get refunds on reservations. This also includes travelling family members.

Some airlines are giving refunds or letting pregnant women change their plans if they booked for areas dealing with Zika.

Leonardo Tristao, Airbnb country manager for Brazil, said they have 7,500 reservations for Rio during the Olympics. That was for a pool of 20,000 properties, which would accommodate about 80,000 people.

He said Brazilians topped the rental list, followed by Americans, British people, Australians and Argentines. Brazil headed the list because of the company's expanding presence in the country, Tristao said, and not because fewer foreigners than expected were coming.

Historically, the Olympics do attract fewer foreigners than expected, as they're put off by higher prices and crowds. Locals also have a history of leaving town during the two-week games.

Tristao said "people have contacted us to understand more about the virus" but he did not say if there were cancellations.

"So far, there is no travel ban to the region," Tristao said. "We need to be careful not to panic."



Advertisements

Latest Economic News

  • Who killed Sears question sparks bitter blame game among top players

    Economic CBC News
    Sears Canada may be over, but the mudslinging over who brought it down has just begun. Majority shareholder Eddie Lampert fired the latest shot in a blog on Sunday. If Sears Canada had adopted a less risky reinvention strategy, it could have avoided shutting its doors, claimed Lampert, who is also CEO of Sears Holdings Corp. Source
  • Unifor head Jerry Dias 'glad to be in the middle of it' on NAFTA talks

    Economic CTV News
    OTTAWA - Just hours before Bombardier Inc. was to unveil a dramatic plan to escape its latest crisis, Jerry Dias was summoned to Montreal to meet with Alain Bellemare, the beleaguered firm's chief executive. There, the head of Canada's largest private-sector union was told that after months of searching for partners to help finance its sleek new C Series jet, Bombardier would be teaming up with European manufacturer Airbus, which would take on much of the responsibility for building and selling…
  • Retails jobs at risk from self-service technology, experts say

    Economic CTV News
    VANCOUVER - Retailers are racing to adopt new technologies, like the self-scanner Walmart has rolled out in 22 Canadian stores, to stay competitive in a challenging industry. But experts say the trend toward automation threatens more jobs in a sector that is already slashing head counts. Source
  • Asian stock markets rise after Wall Street loss

    Economic CTV News
    BEIJING - Asian stock markets edged up Tuesday after Wall Street slid overnight as investors sought new drivers for trading activity. KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.2 per cent to 21,733.10 points and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.1 per cent to 5,901.10. Source
  • Quebec-based Avior inks multi-year contract with Boeing 737 Max project

    Economic CTV News
    LAVAL, Que. -- Canadian aerospace manufacturer Avior Integrated Products says it has entered into a multi-year contract with Boeing's 737 Max airplane program. The company is a full-service supplier of lightweight structural assemblies and will be involved with access door assembly on the project by the U.S. Source
  • Liberal government to boost Canada child benefit payments: sources

    Economic CBC News
    The federal government will announce plans to boost payments made to families under the Canada child benefit program on Tuesday, CBC News has learned. Multiple sources, speaking to CBC News and Radio-Canada on the condition of anonymity, said the government will foreshadow the increase in the fall economic update, which will be tabled tomorrow, and provide more details later this week. Source
  • Company that runs B.C. casino accused of illegal activity says it follows rules

    Economic CTV News
    RICHMOND, B.C. -- The head of a company that runs a British Columbia casino alleged to have taken in millions that could be proceeds of crime says procedures to ensure compliance with regulations are strictly followed. Source
  • Stelco looking to raise $200M with IPO

    Economic Toronto Sun
    Stelco Holdings Inc. is looking to raise $200 million in its initial public offering, according to documents filed with securities regulators. The steelmaker is expecting to price its shares between $16 and $18 per share. If an over-allotment option is exercised in full, the offering will increase to $230 million. Source
  • Man with allergy dies from walnut shells used at construction site

    Economic CTV News
    EDMONTON -- The family of an Edmonton man with a nut allergy says he died after visiting a work site where walnut shells were used to blast paint off walls. Justin Mathews, who was 33, went into anaphylactic shock at the city's Rossdale fire station on Oct. Source
  • Marijuana company Aphria met with TSX about guidance regarding U.S. business

    Economic CBC News
    Marijuana producer Aphria Inc. says it met with the Toronto Stock Exchange last week to discuss the exchange's recent guidance that pot firms with U.S. exposure could face delisting. Aphria chief executive Vic Neufeld says the company reiterated its commitment to work collaboratively with the TSX as it continues to monitor developments in this sector. Source