(Adds study details, airline comments)
By Jeffrey Dastin
Feb 19 Airline bookings to parts of Latin
America and the Caribbean have slipped globally since a U.S.
public health agency warned pregnant women against travel to
areas where the Zika virus is spreading, travel data analysis
company ForwardKeys said Friday.
Bookings to regions hit by the mosquito-borne virus fell
some 3.4 percent from a year ago between Jan. 15, when the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel
advisory, and Feb. 10, the report found.
A move by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb. 1 to
call the Zika outbreak an international emergency appeared to
accelerate the slide, with bookings plunging 10 percent between
the WHO announcement and Feb. 10, according to the report.
The study, which analyzed around 14 million daily travel
agency transactions made via global ticket distributors,
provides early evidence of Zika's potentially broad impact on
travel demand to certain Latin American countries.
Before the CDC warning, bookings were up 4.9 percent during
December and early January to the same destinations from a year
ago, the report said.
Scientists are investigating a potential link between Zika
infections of pregnant women and more than 4,000 suspected cases
in Brazil of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally
small head size that can result in developmental problems.
American Airlines Group Inc, which has the widest
Latin American network among U.S. peers, on Friday reiterated a
late-January comment by its president that it has seen no
material change to flight bookings.
Its President Scott Kirby said at the time that identifying
bookings lost due to Zika would be difficult because unit
revenue already was down some 40 percent to Brazil because of
the country's economic crisis.
According to the ForwardKeys study, there were 3 percent
fewer bookings made to Brazil between Jan. 15 and Feb. 10 versus
a year before.
Tourist hotspots with Zika outbreaks such as Martinique and
the U.S. Virgin Islands saw steeper declines at 24 percent and
27 percent, respectively.
"We have to watch (for developments on the virus) because if
it really should explode, obviously it will have an effect on
all of the Caribbean routes," Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA
Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos said in an interview Thursday.
Norwegian is marketing some tickets from New York to
Martinique at $49, compared with lows of $79 it sold in the
summer. Kjos said the company has yet to see Zika hamper
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York and Victoria Bryan in
Berlin; Editing by Bernard Orr)