While the Zika virus is usually mild and of short duration, it is the responsibility of the incentive planner and the organization's security team to inform attendees of any particular hazards to personal safety and security presented by the destination.
"While some organizations will move forward with events, general precautions -- wearing long sleeves/pants, staying inside with air conditioning, spraying clothing with repellant, and sleeping with mosquito nets -- can greatly reduce the risk of exposure to Zika," says Susan N. Losurdo, CMP, Global Meeting & Event Management and co-author with Deborah Scholar of Crisis Management Handbook: A Quick Reference Guide for Meeting Planners. "An organization may consider providing preventative items such as repellants and nets upon request and having medical staff onsite. Alternatively, an organization could offer a hybrid option, where people can attend the event live or online if they are concerned about traveling. This may be of particular interest to pregnant women who seem to be at the highest risk."
Should an organization feel it necessary to cancel/reschedule/move an event, contract clauses will need to be examined to insure financial protection. Work with hotel chains to move from one hotel to another property within the chain to minimize penalties, advises Losurdo.
A wealth of information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: cdc.gov/zika/. Here you can find resources like FAQs and fact sheets/posters that an organization would find helpful. These tools can be used to communicate to attendees in preparation for travel and while onsite.
A longer version of this feature is available here.
The impact of the Zika virus on meetings and incentive travel has yet to be fully determined but planners are taking action. None of the major meeting and incentive companies contacted for this article had canceled or relocated a meeting or incentive because of the virus, but all had advised their clients about Zika.
"At this time the Zika virus has not become widespread in the USA therefore domestic meetings have not been effected," says Susan N. Losurdo, CMP, of Greenville, NC-based Global Meeting & Event Management, and co-author with Deborah Scholar of the Crisis Management Handbook: A Quick Reference Guide for Meeting Planners
. "For those meetings that are taken overseas to infected areas, there have been mixed responses. While some have cancelled or moved events to non-infected areas, many have gone forward with existing plans with added precautions."
"If you have meetings in Latin America you need to be serious about mosquito protection. Wear the right clothes, wear bug spray, make sure your facilities have screens in the windows, and sleep under a net," says Baltimore-based Karen Moul, business development specialist, Catholic Relief Services. "My company has offices all over Latin America. While we are not canceling any meetings, our staff has advised all pregnant visitors to Zika-prevalent zones to cancel travel until further notice."
Although Spear One
, a full-service meeting planning and sales incentive company based in Dallas, TX, hasn't had any trip cancellations, it did have one cancellation by a pregnant participant who was going on an incentive trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the end of February.
"We are advising our clients what to be aware of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) statements and are stressing what the CDC website says," says Mike May, CMP, president and owner of Spear One.
Meeting professionals all agree it is important to be practical -- not fearful -- when dealing with this and other viruses. May brings up Ebola, Swine Flu, and SARS. "It seems every three years over the last decade some story of disease breaks out and our reaction far exceeds what it should have been when we look back," he says.
May points out that the CDC has issued a Level 2 - Practice Enhanced Precautions travel alert for people traveling to regions and countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. But it is a Level 3 warning from the CDC that advises avoiding nonessential travel, he notes.
David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Travel
, agrees with May. "We are taking a cautious approach to Zika. We closely track the information about every destination and share that with our clients. We do not get into the what if's," explains Peckinpaugh. "We've been through many of these, most recently the Ebola scare."
Maritz has not seen a significant impact on cancellations. "A few people here and there making choices based on their own circumstances. But we have had no program cancellations," adds Peckinpaugh.