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Island’s zika-free status boosts tourism

Be alert: Zika is transmitted to people mainly through the bite of certain infected female mosquitoes

Tourists are choosing Bermuda as a holiday destination over other Caribbean and South American locations because of the island’s Zika-free status.

A handful of imported cases have been reported by the Department of Health on the island, but so far there has not been any local transmission of the mosquito-borne infection.

Kenneth Bascome, Junior Minister for Tourism, told The Royal Gazette he had spoken with many first-time visitors who chose Bermuda because they did not need to worry about the Zika virus.

“I have been involved in the visitors’ industry for many years and make a point to ask first-time visitors why they have chosen Bermuda,” Mr Bascome said.

“It has been amazing to me over the last three months the number of people who have chosen to come here as a result of the Zika virus. Many have told me they wanted to travel to Barbados, but chose Bermuda instead because they had concerns about Zika.

“These first-time visitors have told me they have been overwhelmed by their experience and will be returning.”

Mr Bascome praised the “outstanding” work of the Bermuda Tourism Authority that has resulted in a sharp increase in arrival numbers over recent months. But he also urged the public to stop dumping household appliances and other equipment that could collect water and act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“This is a real problem, especially on the new hotel site, and I would beg my fellow Bermudians to think about these dangers before they go up there and dump fridges, washing machines and other appliances.”

The World Health Organisation declared a state of emergency over the spread of Zika in February, and since then the virus has reached almost every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada. Thousands of babies have suffered deformities as a result of the infection.

Yesterday, the WHO declared an end to its global health emergency, although this prompted criticism from global public health figures.

Zika’s capacity to tip Bermuda’s air arrival numbers was noted during the Throne Speech debate, when Michael Scott of the Progressive Labour Party noted its potential as an outlying influence on tourism figures.

Glenn Jones, the BTA’s director of public and stakeholder relations, told <>i>The Royal Gazette that business development managers had fielded inquiries from groups looking to travel to the island, when initially they had looked to go to the Caribbean.

However, he acknowledged that it was not possible to quantify the impact of Zika on tourism numbers.

“The BTA is constantly consulting with the Department of Health as it relates to Zika and we have confidence in the officials who are taking the necessary steps to keep residents and visitors safe from the threat of Zika,” he said.

“As seen in a recent Boston Globe article, travellers are learning Bermuda has one of the most effective vector control programmes in the world. Even though Bermuda does not have the mosquito most capable of transmitting the Zika virus, it’s clear to us that the growth in visitor arrivals we’ve seen this year is primarily a result of foundational changes in tourism strategy.

“A refreshed brand, more geographically focused advertising placements and success in sports tourism are just a few examples of the things making a positive difference for the island’s tourism economy.

“So while it’s true Bermuda is as safe a travel destination as it has always been from a health perspective, our appeal as a destination is more than that — it must be more if Bermuda is to be successful.

“However, anecdotally, I’ve heard about a New York family’s decision to move its reunion from Mexico to Bermuda because they had Zika concerns. Our business development managers have also fielded enquires from groups investigating travel to Bermuda when initially they had their hearts set on the Caribbean.

“We’re not out there actively trumpeting Bermuda as a non-Zika destination, but if and when travellers reach out with questions we provide them with the best information we have as a result of working with the Department of Health.”