Tourism Fights Zika with Rain Advisories, Repellent Bands and Prevention Kits

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A Zika prevention kit, with items recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of the latest ways the VI Department of Tourism is trying to reassure visitors.

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ST. THOMAS — The territory’s top tourism official says summer tourism is holding its own, in spite of a spreading Zika virus. However Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty says one sector of the market is suffering because of visitor’s fears.

Those fears, she said, have hit the destination wedding sector hard. It was something Nicholson-Doty said was understandable, given the demographic involved.

The commissioner offered her thoughts on Aug. 12, while waiting for the start of a swearing in ceremony for Health Commissioner Michelle Davis. The new health commissioner has an advanced degree in epidemiology, which deals with the spread of disease.

Nicholson-Doty called the Department of Health the agency that tourism depends on to keep visitors informed on how to keep Zika at bay.

Davis said one of her priorities is to partner with local agencies to achieve good health outcomes. Resources have also been put in place to promote disease prevention. Printed advisories and wearable insect repellant bands are included.

“From a Tourism standpoint, whenever we have heavy rains, visitors receive a little card on arrival that tells them how to keep themselves safe,” Nicholson-Doty said.

“During periods of very heavy rain we even have repellant bands we give out to our overnight visitors. Also our private sector partners are a real important component of this, asking our hotels if they have repellant, also making sure they are following all of the health recommendations of Health and DPNR in terms of mosquito mitigation of breeding sites.”

There are also Zika prevention kits. Contractors are now distributing the kits, which include, bed nets, condoms, mosquito spray, treatment tablets for standing water and a special spray to be used on clothing. But, she admitted, assurances and give aways don’t go far enough for some visitors. Young women who face the worst prospects from a Zika infection if they get pregnant.

“I will tell you we think one of the places we’ve seen the most impact is in the romance and destination wedding area,” the Tourism commissioner said.

In the face of slumping numbers, Nicholson-Doty offering a perspective. Summer tourism in 2016 follows a peak season in 2015. If 2016 is not seeing as many visitors as it did last year, it may be a matter of perception.

“Notwithstanding, we have very positive numbers overall. One of the concerns with Zika is that we certainly knew at the beginning when we saw cancellations during the first quarter, so we could tell what the immediate loss of business was. The challenge with Zika is you don’t know what the turndown is, specifically attributed to Zika,” she said.

Concerns about Zika began in South America and quickly spread to the Caribbean, with neighboring Puerto Rico becoming the focus of national public health mitigation efforts in recent days.