Canadian sun seekers show ‘growing concern’ over Zika outbreak

Montreal-based Transat could feel the impact of growing concerns among Canadian vacationers over the Zika virus, experts say. Credit/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As if the low Canadian dollar wasn’t enough of a deterrent for Canadian travellers this winter, a health scare caused by the Zika virus has more than likely led others to recoil from their usual winter getaway plans.

We’ll get a firmer grasp on how deep those fears have gone next week when Transat, the country’s biggest tourism operator, reports financial results for the three months up to the end of January — or just as media reports about the virus’ spread were reaching a fever pitch.

While Montreal-based Transat is sure to see some turbulence from a volatile Canadian dollar, the number of Canadian travellers heading south may well come in lower than expected because of “the growing concerns over the Zika virus,” analysts at CIBC World Markets said Wednesday.

So far

North American airlines and tour operators have suggested the impact on travel demand has been limited so far.

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“Other North American airlines have stated that they have not seen a material impact on their booking curves related to the Zika virus,” CIBC’s experts noted.

On a Feb. 2 conference call, WestJet officials said the airline hadn’t yet seen a pullback in demand to sun destinations it flies to or sells vacation packages for. Like others, the Calgary-based carrier is compensating customers who have purchased tickets to regions affected by the outbreak.

“We’ve made it very easy for our guests. We are saying no questions asked. If you are traveling to one of the areas that’s impacted by the Zika virus, we will gladly give you a credit on the ticket you purchased,” Gregg Saretsky, WestJet’s CEO, said. “But we are not seeing any impact.”

READ MORE: Here’s what Canadian airlines are doing about Zika

Health officials in Cuba — one of the most popular winter destinations among Canadians — announced Wednesday that it had detected the first case of the Zika virus on the island, which had been one of the last nations in the Western Hemisphere free of the disease.

The Zika epidemic has spread to 40 countries over the past year. Last month, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the virus’s worrisome link to neurological disorders, particularly Guillain–Barré and microcephaly, a birth defect associated with malformed brains.

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Health officials have stressed there is still no scientific proof that Zika is causing these neurological issues.

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