Hotel, travel industries join forces to urge congressional action on Zika funding
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There are daily headlines about the Zika virus. Although local transmission of the disease is currently contained within a very limited space in southern Florida, public uncertainty abounds—especially around the state and among those with any plans to travel there. State and federal public health officials are working with the resources available to them—but the U.S. Congress, mired in election-year politicking, has failed to advance a Zika funding measure.

That needs to change immediately. Safeguarding the public health, on its own, demands action. But not to be dismissed is the potential economic damage to the Floridian and national economies simply because people are too apprehensive about Zika to go about their daily lives. 

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Travel avoidance due to Zika fears poses a serious challenge to our nation’s travel industry, which generates $2.1 trillion in economic output for the U.S., drives job creation across the United States, and is among the top 10 employers in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Travel and tourism has continuously played a major role in our country’s post-recession recovery. Continued inaction on Zika funding puts this recovery—and millions of American jobs—on shaky ground.

The experts have been very clear that the scope of the Zika threat is extremely limited. The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to emphasize that the transmission zone is just four square miles out of Florida’s total area of 65,000-plus. The recent lift of a CDC travel advisory on Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is indicative of Florida’s unique resilience and ability to successfully manage challenging circumstances when they have adequate resources.

Still, as Congress flounders on its Zika response, it is not difficult to imagine prospective travelers asking themselves if it is better to be safe than sorry. It has been said that Floridians perceive Zika as being a Miami problem; Americans perceive Zika as being a Florida problem; but until we eliminate Zika, global travelers may become increasingly wary of visiting America—and that would be a major problem for millions of American workers, thousands of businesses and the nation’s economy as a whole. Given the 75 million international visitors the U.S. welcomed last year—and the $133 billion they spent—it is daunting to think of the travel decisions that are being made as the global community watches Washington’s non-action on Zika.

The National Institutes of Health and the CDC have declared that existing Zika money will run out by the end of this month, unless Congress authorizes new funding. We cannot afford to wait any longer to ramp up efforts that will support new research, vaccines, and advanced solutions to prevention and mosquito control. Congressional inaction on this issue is simply unacceptable. That’s why the hotel and travel industries are uniting to call for swift action.

Zika isn’t the first public health threat to cross our borders, and will not be the last. Americans are resilient and diligent in combatting these types of threats head on; recall those periods when bird flu and swine flu once had many of us considering the prudence of travel, but which seem like distant memories now. Zika can get there, too, but not quickly or efficiently enough unless every level of government shows its commitment to providing adequate resources. We implore Congress to put politics aside and approve emergency funding now.

Katherine Lugar is AH&LA President and CEO and Roger Dow is U.S. Travel Association President and CEO.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.