Blog

Tourism marketing plans reviewed in wake of Zika cases

image023

The Tourism Ministry and Department of Tourism is taking steps to the stave off any negative impact on tourist visits to Cayman as this country recorded two confirmed cases of the virus ravaging the Caribbean. The Zika virus threat has significantly affected Cayman with this country recording a 2.85 per cent decline in visitors from January through March 2016 according to Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism as she spoke in Finance Committee last month.

Reshma Ragoonath

With Cayman recording two confirmed imported cases of the Zika virus, the Ministry of Tourism and Department of Tourism (DoT) are kicking the country’s tourism marketing plan into action to stave off any negative impact on Cayman’s tourism industry.

This as both government agencies, in a joint statement on Thursday (7 July), acknowledged that they were aware of the news that two residents who returned home to Cayman contracted the Zika virus abroad.

image024

However they stressed that they will be working on plans to reduce any adverse impact on the local tourism industry.

“The DOT will endeavor to fulfill our department’s mandate in attracting visitors to the Cayman Islands and is fully committed to deploy strategies to combat any negative impact to inbound travel to our islands,” the joint statement said.

The Ministry and the DoT assured that they are working with the public health authorities and other relevant agencies, in order to “continue to actively provide appropriate communication, education and prevention practices.”

“As global travel is a part of personal and business relations the key to managing any widespread impact in the Cayman Islands is preventative measures,” the Ministry and Department of Tourism stressed.

However Cayman, prior to the announcement of the confirmed cases, was already feeling the negative fallout from the Zika outbreak within the region as Director of Tourism Rosa Harris, speaking in Finance Committee last month, said tourism numbers are down by 2.85 per cent for the first three months of 2016.

The perception of Zika “is a serious threat” she declared as she addressed Finance Committee on 17 June regarding budget appropriations falling under the Ministry of District Administration and Tourism.

The perception and the threat of Zika “has hurt our business tremendously” as bride and romance travel is “significantly down,” Mrs Harris said.

“Brides are deciding to stay at home in the US rather than a Caribbean wedding because of the perception is that the whole Caribbean has Zika,” Ms Harris lamented.

Cayman is expected to begin the Oxitec/MRCU genetically modified mosquito project next week which will see the release of some 22 million mosquitoes targeted at controlling the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito here.

On Tuesday (5 July) the Public Health Department, in a media statement, confirmed Cayman’s first cases of Zika virus by two returning residents.

Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez said, in that statement, that the first patient is a female resident, who travelled from 15 to 22 June to a country where there is an outbreak of Zika. She reported onset of symptoms beginning on 25 June when she visited the Health Services Authority.

The second patient, a female resident who recently completed high school in a country where there is a Zika outbreak, returned home on 19 June. She reported onset of symptoms beginning 23 June and sought medical attention on 25 June.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said there is no evidence of local transmission of Zika in the Cayman Islands.

He pointed out that while the Zika virus is mainly transmitted through Aedes aegyptimosquitoes, other modes of transmission – in particular, sexual transmission – have been documented.

“We cannot over-emphasise that all men returning from where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur, should adopt safer sexual practices or consider abstinence for at least four weeks after return. Continue to be alert, and practice preventative measures, to ensure minimal to non-risk of being bitten by the carrier mosquito, Aedes aegypti,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez added.

The Tourism Ministry and DoT assured citizens, in their statement, that “accurate and timely reporting to the tourism sector is our top priority” to ensure the safety of residents and visitors.

“The DoT continues the implementation of a robust year round marketing plan and will move into planning for 2017 marketing strategies this summer,” the statement said.

The Public Health Department is advising any person who develops Zika virus symptoms, especially fever, rash conjunctivitis (pink eye) within two weeks of having returned from countries with Zika virus cases to consult their physician and inform them of their travel history.

Zika is linked with microcephaly, a condition where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal, because of slowed or incomplete brain development so pregnant women and women who plan to get pregnant are being urged to take precautionary steps to guard against contracting the virus.

Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) Director Dr Bill Petrie has assured that the Unit is monitoring the situation closely and reminds the public to help reduce the Aedes aegyptipopulation by clearing yards of containers that hold water, as these are favourite breeding sites of the mosquito.