SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Experiencing a 96% reduction in the number of new zika cases since the peak in October 2016, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) is optimistic heading into 2017. Over the past ten weeks, there has been a markedly steady decline of reported new zika cases, with new cases of zika infection peaking at 5,317 for the week of October 7-14 but by the week of December 19-23 reported cases had decreased to a low of 222.
The PRTC launched an aggressive educational outreach program in February, activated to dissipate the fears and communicate the real facts about zika. Collaborating with the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA) as well as Meet Puerto Rico, the PRTC broke through the zika hype with a compelling message and strong voice: Facts not Fear.
Communicating the reality that zika was not growing nearly as rapidly as the CDC had projected, the PRTC worked to change the zika conversation, and emphasize the reality that reported cases are a fraction of what was projected. Cases are now at about 1 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population versus forecasts that 25% of Puerto Ricans would eventually have the virus by the end of the year.
The layered collaborative educational and fact-driven campaign has been successful.
“The dramatic decrease in the number of zika cases in Puerto Rico is a testament to our integrated aggressive program to inform and disseminate the facts and allay the fears. The PRTC worked incredibly hard with the industry and health officials to communicate accurate and precise messages about zika to the public,” said Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the PRTC. “Ultimately, our team has been successful in not only educating our residents but protecting our visitors and our critical tourism industry.”
Tourism annually contributes nearly $4 billion to Puerto Rico’s economy and was the first industry to come out of the Island’s five-year recession. Since the start of zika, total hotel registrations from Jan-Sept in 2016 are 1.6% above 2015 and ten million passengers are expected to be welcomed by Puerto Rico airports by the end of 2016.
Broadway star Chita Rivera, TV host Maria Celeste, Baseball stars Carlos Correa and Ivan Rodriguez and Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig also helped the industry spread the word about the reality of zika and how travelers can experience Puerto Rico worry free.
Medical influencers who also underscored the PRTC’s message and educated travelers about facts over fear included the late epidemiologist Dr D.A. Henderson, distinguished scholar at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland; Dr Jason James, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Baptist Hospital in Miami; and Dr Joseph Rosado, a primary care and emergency care physician in Orange City, FL.
In addition, the World Health Organization declared in November that the zika virus was no longer considered an international public health emergency.
“Our collaborative efforts to date in 2016 have been effective in allying fears, controlling zika and the data backs it up,” noted Clarisa Jimenez, president and CEO of the PRHTA. “It is imperative that we keep our foot on the gas pedal and aggressively continue all of our efforts to keep our visitors informed and our guests safe and worry free as we look forward with optimism through 2017.”