Concerns rise among tourism industry surrounding Zika virus in south Florida

Posted at 5:12 PM, Aug 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-02 19:24:29-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning that advised pregnant women and their partners not to travel to a section of Miami-Dade County.

In that community is where health officials say 14 people contracted the Zika virus locally.

In response to the news, the director of Discover the Palm Beaches issued a statement.

Ashley Svarney said in her statement that the agency is in close contact with the Florida Department of Health and Mosquito Control.

She continued to say:

As the official destination marketing corporation for Palm Beach County, Discover The Palm Beaches’ upmost priority is the safety and comfort of our visitors. In an overabundance of caution, we understand and respect the concerns of those visiting the destination; however, with no locally-acquired cases of Zika reported in Palm Beach County, we feel confident that the county’s preventative measures will continue to protect the public. We are in close communication with State Tourism Officials, the Palm Beach County Department of Health, Public Affairs and Mosquito Control to stay current with any developments. The team at Discover The Palm Beaches is prepared to communicate the latest messaging to our destination partners and visitors as developments evolve.

Svarney refused to go on camera to discuss Zika, and so did several hoteliers around the area.

Some said over the phone that they hope the story "goes away" so the news won't hurt their business.

Rick Netzel, director of sales and marketing at the Best Western in West Palm Beach, said the news hasn't hurt his business yet.

So far, he said, his hotel hasn't had any cancellations due to Zika concerns.

"We haven't had any issues, any concerns, no one has called and inquired about it," Netzel said.

Both Netzel and staff with Discover the Palm Beaches say that hotel occupancy numbers right now are higher than they were at this same time last year.

But Netzel worries that cancellations may happen as news travels of the CDC travel warning.

"People from the midwest and northeast-- they just lump all of Palm Beach County together. They have to realize that there's a definite distinction between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County," Netzel said.