How Hotels Can Minimize the Bite of the Zika Virus

By Francesca A. Ippolito-Craven Shareholder, Kubicki Draper | December 11, 2016

The Zika virus has created a potential myriad of legal issues that should be considered by hotel owners and operators in the United States and its territories, particularly in light of the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the Zika virus infection and its associated congenital and other neurological disorders continues to be a "public health emergency of international concern." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also advised that pregnant women should consider postponing non-essential travel to locales that have been zoned areas of active transmission. Hotel owners and operators may potentially face exposure to workers' compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits if a guest or employee can prove that he or she contracted a Zika infection when bitten by a Zika infected mosquito on a hotel's premises, developed a Zika linked illness or disease, and that the hotel failed to take reasonable measures to control mosquitos to provide for the safety of their guests. Additionally, hotels may be faced with attempts, some disingenuous, to terminate or cancel future scheduled group events, such as weddings, conferences and meetings, on the basis that attendees potentially may be exposed to the Zika virus. Hotels must consider the health and safety of their guests and employees, while at the same time, preserve and promote guest occupancy and attendance at events.

History of Zika

According to the WHO, the Zika Virus was first isolated from a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. The first reported cases of humans infected with Zika were in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952. From the 1960s through the 1980s, human infections were found across Africa and Asia and were typically accompanied by mild illness. The first large outbreak of disease caused by Zika infection was reported on Yap Island, Federated States of Micronesia in 2007. In July, 2015 Brazil reported an association between the the Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). In October, 2015 Brazil reported an association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly in infants.

Current Zika Virus Outbreaks

The CDC has reported there are currently Zika virus outbreaks occurring in 48 countries in the Americas (including the United States), three United States Territories, eight Oceania/Pacific Islands, Cape Verde (Africa), and Singapore (Asia). As of November 16, 2016, the CDC has advised there are 139 locally acquired mosquito-borne cases reported in Florida, and 4,115 travel-associated cases reported throughout the United States. Of the reported locally acquired cases in the United States Territories, there are 31,294 in Puerto Rico, 603 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 54 in American Samoa. Of the reported travel-associated cases in the U.S. Territories, there are 115 in Puerto Rico, two in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and zero in American Samoa.

An area of Miami Beach, Florida has recently been declared by the CDC a zone of active Zika transmission. This has prompted a rapid response by governmental agencies, which has included aerial spraying to eradicate or control mosquitos.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.