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A travel notice issued by the Centers for Disease Control over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can cause babies to be born with brain damage, has Latin American tourism businesses on edge, particularly those in the Caribbean’s flourishing “babymoon” vacation business.
The CDC had been urging all travelers visiting areas of Latin America and the Caribbean to take extra precautions against mosquito bites to avoid contracting the virus. But officials upgraded the warning late Friday to a Level 2 travel notice and are now advising pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant to consider avoiding travel to the affected areas out of concern that Zika may cause a catastrophic birth defect called microcephaly.
Most experts don’t expect a CDC alert to substantially hurt overall travel to Latin America. But the flourishing Caribbean “babymoon” vacation business, which offers pregnant women and their spouses or partners “one last, relaxing hurrah before the baby comes,” according to About.com’s family vacations editor Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, could be more vulnerable.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization reports that 12.9 million American tourists visited the region in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, a 5.5 percent increase over 2013. It is not clear what percentage of the travelers were on babymoon trips, but the percentage is small, experts say.
“We likely will see a significant decline in trips by women who are pregnant or trying to conceive to these regions in light of the apparent link between the virus and birth defects,” Euromonitor analyst Amanda Bourlier told NBC News via email before the CDC travel notice was issued. “But this demographic represents a relatively small subset of total travelers and as such we anticipate the economic impact from the tourism side should be limited.”
On Monday, news of the travel alert were rippling through the babymoon industry.
Jaclyn Rutigliano, 29, and her husband, who had a babymoon scheduled in two weeks on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, were planning to abandon the trip.
"It looks like we will have no choice but to cancel, which we are super bummed about," she said.
Jack Ezon, of Virtuoso member, Ovation Vacations, said he had eight trip cancellations over the weekend because of the Zika alert. "And it's still early Monday," he said.
Even before the CDC issued the alert, news of the virus' spread was spooking a few prospective travelers.
Nancy Yale, president of Cruise and World Travel, which books a lot of babymoon trips, said she had one couple decide to cancel their Caribbean babymoon trip to Nevis, which was scheduled for February. Instead they will spend five days in Florida, she said.
“We’re also checking with travel insurance companies to see if a CDC travel alert about the virus would be a covered reason for cancellation,” she said.
The Cruise Lines International Association said it is in close contact with public health authorities about Zika virus concerns.
“Cruise ships publish a daily flier which includes information for passengers relating to health and safety. Zika virus, and corresponding prevention measures, would be one of the topics covered, if appropriate,” the association said in a statement, adding that “the recommended repellent is available on cruise ships.”
For those looking for alternative destinations for spring break, “the easiest Plan B is to pick a fun destination right here in the U.S. of A. such as baseball spring training in Arizona or Florida, maple sugaring and/or late-season skiing in Vermont, whale watching in San Diego or a living history immersion in Williamsburg, VA,” said Kelleher, the vacations editor.
And for alternative warm-weather romantic getaways, Fodors.com Editor-in-Chief Arabella Bowen suggests Palm Springs, California or the Hawaiian island of Maui. If sun and heat aren't requirements, she recommends “Utah’s splurge-worthy Amangiri resort.”