October 12, 2016

By: Joe Pike

An aerial view of Hawaii Island // Photo by Joe Pike

With the recent news that Hawaii Island has confirmed its first travel-related case of the Zika mosquito virus, Travel Agent is urging Hawaii-bound clients not to overreact.

According to a West Hawaii Today report, a single imported case of the Zika virus on Hawaii Island was confirmed by the state Department of Health’s Hawaii Island District Health Office and the County of Hawaii on Tuesday.

It marks the first travel-related case of Zika in Hawaii County this year confirmed by the DOH State Laboratories Division, according to the report. However, the Hawaii resident has a history of recent travel to the South Pacific, and is past the point of being infectious to mosquitoes, officials said. It should be noted that the destinations that pose the biggest Zika threats are those that actually have the Zika-carrying mosquito. These are usually tropical destinations that are home to a rain forest. 

But Zika transmission from humans is easily preventable. Basically, safe sex is the easiest way to avoid transmission from a human. It should also be noted that the infected resident is past the point of being able to pass it to a mosquito, which could have made the situation a lot worse.

Travel Agent also put our money where our mouth is recently and spent roughly two weeks on three different Hawaiian Islands. Now, we did not make it to Hawaii Island, but our tours to Maui, Kauai and Oahu were practically mosquito free. 

I can say that during my island-hopping trip that saw me cover the Classic Vacations STAR Performers event on Maui, the Journese CURATORS event on Kauai and the Hawaii Tourism Conference on Oahu, I literally got bitten by zero mosquitoes. 

Now, that doesn’t mean the virus still doesn’t pose a threat to the destination, especially if someone contracts it from another destination and then passes it along to a mosquito in Hawaii. 

But Hawaii has been arguably the most proactive destination in combatting the virus. 

In fact, during that Hawaii Tourism Conference coverage, we sat down with George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, to find out exactly what the island is doing to give tourists some peace of mind. 

Szigeti says the Zika mosquito virus that has been negatively impacting tourism in some destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America has not had any effect on Hawaii’s tourism numbers. 

And Szigeti gives all the credit to the successful “Fight the Bite” campaign, a Hawaii State Department of Health initiative that educates both residents and visitors on how to take measures to prevent Zika transmission. 

“We have been very proactive on the issue,” says Szigeti. “We basically just tell visitors, ‘You’re already used to using sunscreen, now get used to using mosquito repellent, that’s all.’ And we’ve given residents tips on reducing leaks in their backyards or if you have something like an old tire sitting in the back just collecting water, get rid of it. Just simple measures like that help.”

In fact, based on several conversations I’ve had with some notable Hawaii tour operators, Hawaii is one of the destinations people are vacationing to in order to avoid Zika. And this is one reason why the Aloha State is even seeing a nice spike in travel from the East Coast, which is usually a better market for the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe than it is for the Aloha State. 

“We have been seeing an increase from visitors from East Coast mainly because of everything that is going on in the world today,” says Szigeti. “Hawaii is one of those places that people perceive as being safe, clean and fun.”

Visit www.gohawaii.com and keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Hawaii news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent’s Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike

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