Only 7 Percent of Florida Tourists Have Changed Travel Plans Due to Zika, Study Says

In Miami's tourism-centered economy, any crisis that might lead visitors to avoid the metro area could quickly snowball into a full-scale financial catastrophe. Thankfully — so far at least — the Zika virus outbreak doesn't seem to be having that effect. 

A study released yesterday by the University of Florida reports that, although the majority of Sunshine State tourists are concerned about Zika, only about 7 percent of them have changed or canceled their plans to travel here as a result of the outbreak.

Visitors are so central to the Florida economy that UF has an entire Tourism Crisis Management Initiative (TCMI) to study threats to the sun-and-sand-rental business. Days after Miami-Dade announced that more than a dozen locally transmitted Zika cases had been confirmed, the TCMI began surveying tourists about whether they planned to avoid the state. The TCMI spoke to 828 people.

Though 70 percent of tourists said they were "concerned" about the virus, only one in ten from that group — or 7 percent of respondents overall — said they had changed their travel plans.

Even better news: Of the people avoiding the state, 60 percent simply postponed their trips to later dates to see how the virus developed. Only a quarter of the people avoiding Florida canceled their trips. (Fifteen percent of the folks avoiding Zika actually spoke to a doctor before changing their plans too.)

It's worth noting that the study doesn't specify how many of those people are avoiding Miami. Because the virus has not broken out statewide, it's possible many of the study's respondents were headed to areas of the state without any local Zika cases.

Still, the study is one of the first signs of positive news after the outbreak hit Wynwood earlier this month. Last weekend, Wynwood's typically packed streets looked so empty they resembled Chernobyl.

In response, Wynwood business owners took aim at county mosquito-control experts this week, demanding that the county and CDC lift travel bans on portions of the neighborhood and accusing the county of overreacting compared to the Zika's actual threat.

To entice more people to visit the neighborhood, Wynwood business owners have implemented the public-relations campaign "Love for Locals." Though the promotion is not officially tied to Zika, scores of bars are offering discounts to locals who visit the area through this Sunday.

A photo posted by woodtavern (@woodtavern) on

UF's study gives hope to Wynwood's bar and restaurant owners. The handful of tourists avoiding Miami because of Zika should be back sooner rather than later.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.