Zika disrupting Miami Beach tourism industry

2009 shot of Ocean Drive (Credit: chensiyuan) and a mosquito
2009 shot of Ocean Drive (Credit: chensiyuan) and a mosquito

Miami Beach business owners have been dreading the Zika virus’ potential impacts on tourism since its arrival on the barrier island last month. Now, the first reports of fewer hotel bookings in the critical fall and winter seasons are beginning to roll in.

According to the Miami Herald, which cited a memo from the city, hotels within the Miami Beach Zika transmission zone are reporting a spate of cancellations. The Fontainebleau Miami Beach, one of the city’s most iconic hotels, was recently hit with its worst three weeks of business in the last 15 years.

Several hotels are struggling to hit their booking goals for the tourist-heavy Art Basel festival in December, with resorts like the Loews Miami Beach suffering more than 700 cancellations, the Herald reported.

The newspaper, citing statistics from hotel research firm STR, also reported a handful of other key measurements that show the industry is hurting. Revenue per available room dipped 11.1 percent year-over-year, with occupancy facing a similar 7.5 percent drop in the same time period.

Several other issues weighing down the tourism industry make it tough to determine how much of the business lost is to blame on Zika, the Herald reported.

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The supply of available hotel rooms has grown 5.7 percent year-over-year, leading to increased competition between properties. That’s only been made worse by the proliferation of short-term rentals, which have seen their market shore bloom in South Florida over the past year.

Weak foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar also means fewer bookings from abroad. And the proliferation of short-term rentals.

The Zika virus, which is transferred through mosquito bites or sexual activity, primarily affects pregnant women and is linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that stunts the development of a fetus’s’ brain.

Wynwood became the first location in the United States where Zika was being actively transmitted in July, though it was declared Zika-free by Gov. Rick Scott last week. The virus hit Miami Beach in August and its active transmission zone has since tripled, now encompassing Eighth Street to 63rd Street. [Miami Herald]Sean Stewart-Muniz