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Zika stigma fading, claim Brazil operators

Zika-related enquiries and cancellations dropping off as authorities aim to reinstate confidence ahead of Olympics

Pictured: Fears over the Zika virus are fading, say Brazil tour operators

Brazilian corporate travel bodies say fears over Zika are starting to buzz off, as operators seek to return confidence among UK groups in time for the Olympic Games.

Destination management companies and the Brazil Tourist Board say while there are still some cancellations from corporate groups, they are mostly related to pregnant women. The level of enquiries as to the prevalence of the virus has also begun to reduce they add, while some event companies even say they haven't witnessed any reduction in travel to Brazil.

The World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency in February as a result of the number of Zika cases, which can result in deformities to unborn babies. To date, there have been more than 4,500 confirmed cases in Brazil and a further 500 in the US.

Leandro Popik, from destination management company (DMC) ESA Latin America, said: "The number of enquiries we get relating to Zika is beginning to die down slowly. The peak of the concern was in February-April of this year. We've started to notice this concern die down since the end of April.

"Zika as a health issue has been around for decades, but until the beginning of 2016 it had never been cited as a reason not to bring a meeting or incentive travel programme to Brazil."

Popik said the virus had affected bookings, but so too had a misguided perception of higher travel costs.

"We have seen less demand for Brazil in general due to Zika, but also due to the perception that Rio may be expensive during 2016 because of the Olympics, when in fact the opposite is the case," he said.

"We have had a couple of programs that were about to be signed off and already had the verbal confirmation from the client that they'd be in Brazil, where the customer has told us that unfortunately due to Zika they would be postponing Brazil. Fortunately, none of our programs which had a signed contract have been cancelled, and we do have some confirmed UK incentive travel programmes coming to Brazil for 2016 and 2017."

Popik hopes the Olympic Games will alter perceptions about travelling to Brazil, and points out that precautions like insect repellent can be used.

"I most certainly do think that the Olympics will greatly reduce the concern from UK customers with bringing UK incentives to Rio. When the world sees that the biggest stars in global sport are in Rio competing during the Olympics, it will immediately change the perception that the city poses a health danger to visitors," he said.

"I remain very optimistic that the concern will die down in the global media, and things will go back to normal for Rio in particular and Brazil as a whole, in terms of the demand to visit Latin America's most famous city, and one of the most beautiful large cities in the world in terms of its nature, if not outright the most beautiful of all."

Greg Ward, chief operating officer at Clarion Events, which has an office in Brail, said: "We have not seen any negative impact on either international or domestic sales attributable to the Zika virus. The most important factor affecting bookings remains Brazil's current economic and political situation, although it's fundamentals remain strong."

Embratur, The Brazilian Tourism Board, said business travellers should carry on with their trips as authorities were "fully engaged" in fighting the virus.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Embratur said: "Embratur has monitored systematically cases of cancellations or postponements of trips to Brazil. To date, the dropouts were mostly related to pregnant women. The flow of communication with operators, international travel agents and partners also received reinforcement, to understand the behavior of consumers in each market.

"Embratur reinforces that the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics will take place in the months of August and September, and all attention will be taken to ensure the good health of the participants during one of the biggest celebrations in the sport world."

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