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

  • BP Canada given the go-ahead to start drilling off the Nova Scotia coast

    Economic CTV News
    HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's offshore petroleum regulator has granted BP Canada Energy Group approval to begin drilling a well off the province's coast. The Aspy D-11 exploration well is the first in BP Canada's Scotian Basin Exploration Project, which could see up to seven exploration wells drilled off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia over a three year period. Source
  • Bought bitcoin in 2017? Here's how cryptocurrency is taxed in Canada

    Economic CBC News
    So, you read all the headlines in 2017 about the millions of dollars to be made in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, and you took the investment plunge. Maybe you made big money, maybe just a few thousand dollars. Source
  • Tesla's troubles are piling up — but the Elon Musk cult is still full of true believers

    Economic CBC News
    Tesla is beset by production problems and swimming in debt, its bonds are considered junk status, its stock has more people betting against it than any other major company. There are real concerns it won't be able to raise enough cash to keep going. Source
  • Oil surges toward $70 and stirs dreams of $100

    Economic CBC News
    Three years after the devastating oil price crash, optimism is back in the industry as prices are surging toward $70 US per barrel, and thoughts of $100 return. The rosy outlook is a far cry from early 2016, when prices dropped below $30 US per barrel. Source
  • Oilpatch skeptical about Plan B for Trans Mountain

    Economic CBC News
    The federal government may have a Plan B, if Kinder Morgan pulls the plug on the Trans Mountain pipeline. But the energy sector is still waiting on Plan A to be unveiled. Ottawa believes another proponent could step forward if Kinder Morgan bails on Trans MountainOn a conference call with analysts, Kinder Morgan's chief executive Steve Kean said that there were no signs that the political roadblocks were going to be removed. Source
  • Oilpatch skeptical about backup plan for Trans Mountain

    Economic CBC News
    The federal government may have a Plan B, if Kinder Morgan pulls the plug on the Trans Mountain pipeline. But the energy sector is still waiting on Plan A to be unveiled. Ottawa believes another proponent could step forward if Kinder Morgan bails on Trans MountainOn a conference call with analysts, Kinder Morgan's chief executive Steve Kean said that there were no signs that the political roadblocks were going to be removed. Source
  • Marijuana sector firms get marketing pushback as legalization looms

    Economic CTV News
    TORONTO -- Some Canadian marijuana sector companies are getting pushback against their marketing efforts from social media platforms and government officials as legalization of recreational pot looms and regulations are not yet final. Lift & Co, which hosts industry events and offers cannabis education, has had its YouTube account suspended and Facebook ad account deactivated, with both companies citing a policy violation. Source
  • Southwest offers apology, travel voucher and cash to passengers on damaged jet

    Economic CTV News
    PHILADELPHIA -- Southwest is sending a letter of apology, a $5,000 check and a $1,000 travel voucher to passengers who were on a flight that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia following an engine explosion. Source
  • FAA orders more engine inspections after Southwest accident

    Economic CTV News
    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday ordered ultrasound inspections of hundreds of jet engines like the one that blew apart at 32,000 feet in a deadly accident aboard a Southwest Airlines plane. The agency said the directive affects 352 engines on new-generation Boeing 737s, a twin-engine jet that is a workhorse of the aviation industry, used by airlines around the world. Source
  • Metis, Manitoba agree to 2-week 'reset' before heading to court in hydro spat

    Economic CTV News
    WINNIPEG - The Manitoba Metis Federation and the province have agreed to a two-week "reset" to avoid meeting in court over planned hydro projects. Metis federation president David Chartrand and Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen had a private meeting to discuss a deal between the federation and Manitoba Hydro. Source