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

  • Bitcoin futures set to begin trading at Chicago exchange

    Economic CTV News
    CHICAGO -- A security based on bitcoin, the digital currency that has exploded in popularly and volatility this year, was to begin trading on a major U.S. exchange for the first time on Sunday. The Chicago Board Options Exchange, one of the nation's largest traders of options and futures, planned to open up bitcoin futures for trading at 5 p.m. Source
  • Bitcoin futures rise as virtual currency hits major exchange

    Economic CTV News
    CHICAGO -- The first-ever bitcoin future began trading Sunday as the increasingly popular virtual currency made its debut on a major U.S. exchange. The futures contract that expires in January rose $340 to $15,800 in the first hour and 15 minutes of trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. Source
  • Shoppers rankled by doorstep theft of big-ticket deliveries

    Economic CTV News
    Todd Bailey is fed up with delivery companies that drop his online purchases at his door. A few years ago, the Grande Prairie, Alta., resident was at the hospital for the birth of his child when a big-screen TV he had ordered was left on his front stoop. Source
  • Even the best companies can't eliminate cyber attacks: experts

    Economic CTV News
    TORONTO -- Companies trying to stay ahead of the increasing threat of cyberattacks need to be cognizant of one simple fact: there is no perfect antidote or turnkey solution against criminals bent on breaching their systems. Source
  • 'Well, there's no limit on it': Ohio student makes a fortune buying Canadian-invented ether cryptocurrency

    Economic CBC News
    Eddy Zillan is an 18-year-old high school senior in Cleveland. He loves going to car shows and he plans to attend dental school after he graduates to become an orthodontist. In many ways, he's like most students his age except for the fact that he's made a fortune buying and selling cryptocurrencies. Source
  • Trump says Trudeau left out lumber, energy while talking trade numbers

    Economic CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump regaled a rally of supporters Friday night with a story about a disagreement with Canada's prime minister, then sprinkled his tale with some questionable statistics about international trade. Trump told a partisan crowd in Florida that he and Justin Trudeau had a closed-door debate about trade balances. Source
  • Is Rogers really going to sell the Blue Jays? Don't bet on it

    Economic CBC News
    The math is pretty hard to argue with. Rogers bought the Blue Jays for a mere $165 million in 2000. Today the franchise is worth more than $1.6 billion. By any measure, that's a nifty return on investment. Source
  • 'How can they get away with that?': Canadians pay much more than Americans for baby products

    Economic CBC News
    With just weeks to go before she's set to deliver twins, Toronto's Kelsi Hamilton and her husband are busy buying double of everything. Diapers, baby food, cribs, a double stroller — the long list of essentials adds up to big, budget-busting bucks. Source
  • What is bitcoin and why is the digital currency surging?

    Economic CBC News
    The bitcoin frenzy shows no sign of letting up, with the price of the digital currency soaring and bitcoin futures set to start trading on Sunday. Here's a look at what bitcoin is and why there's so much excitement around it. Source
  • Bitcoin briefly dips almost 20%, rebounds to hover just over $15,000 US

    Economic CBC News
    Bitcoin lost almost a fifth of its value in 10 hours on Friday, having surged more than 40 per cent in the preceding 48 hours, sparking fears the market may be heading for a price collapse. Source