The shooting at the Pulse nightclub in June traumatized the Orlando community, leading parks to cancel events planned to publicize their new attractions for the summer. Then a fatal alligator attack at Walt Disney World kept Disney's PR machine silent for a week. Add a bad exchange rate, a sluggish economy for many Americans, higher prices with minimal discounting, and a near complete lack of publicity and you end up with declining attendance.
But the flow of bad news might not be over for Orlando's theme parks. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that mosquitoes in the Miami area are carrying the dreaded Zika virus, which has moved into the states from Latin America. The Zika virus has been associated with some horrific birth defects when transmitted to pregnant women. As a result, the CDC is warning pregnant women not to travel to the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, but the travel warnings likely will expand if Zika-carrying mosquitoes travel outside that small area of South Florida.
State and federal officials are working to contain the spread of these mosquitoes, but they also were working to keep Zika from spreading into the United States and that didn't work, so let's face it — the spread of this disease across parts of the United States might only be a matter of time.
The Orlando Sentinel checked with travel agents and found no one canceling Central Florida vacations over concerns about Zika — but it did find people looking to avoid Miami. If a Zika-infected mosquito is found anywhere near the theme parks in Orlando, watch out. The Orlando area then would be included in travel warnings, and families will start bailing on plans to visit Disney and Universal.
Obviously, everyone is rooting for the Zika virus to be contained to and then eradicated from the Miami area. But if the virus makes it way to Central Florida, an irony comes into play. Orlando might be better off then if the virus just keeps spreading, with infected mosquitoes claiming more and more territory across the country. If people already have Zika close to home, then there's no longer any point to avoiding Florida to try to stay away from it.
But until that point, if Zika makes its way to Central Florida, the Orlando-area theme parks will face the same challenges that Brazil and other Latin American destinations have faced ever since the Zika virus first was publicized as being there. I lost count a while back of how many athletes have pulled out of the Rio Olympics over "health concerns," which more often than not mean Zika. (For swimmers and sailors, there's the issue of virus-contaminated water, too. Talk about a literal sh-tshow.)
If you have any concern about Zika, I'd recommend visiting the CDC website and reading its page about Zika. It's got an overview of the virus, a list of things people need to know about it, and what the CDC is doing to try to contain and address the virus and its consequences.
Education helps. But so does a heap of bug spray. Florida natives know the importance of insect repellant — but they also knew about the dangers of alligators in the water, too. If the parks have learned anything this summer, it's that no one can expect visitors to have locals' knowledge about dealing with all the potential risks in the water and in the air. Someone needs to tell them when they get here.
But getting them here won't be easy if the news is filled with stories of Zika at Disney World. The local parks will need to fight back with blog posts, press releases, and social media posts talking about how they are working to protect guests and shield them from risk. (Of course, that also means that they will need to be prepared to actually do all of that.) No one can afford to take their PR presence silent for a week again.Tweet
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