Zika Virus Throws Hollywood's Spring Break Plans Into Disarray
Amid a global health scare that has some Americans coming home sick, industry travelers are hitting the slopes, others are braving the risks with "plenty of bug spray," and some are headed south undeterred for the "great deals."
The recent barrage of jarring Zika headlines and images of newborns with birth defects has generated a panic among would-be spring breakers. Since the virus first hit the Western Hemisphere last year with an outbreak in Brazil, millions of people have been infected worldwide, and, as of late March, there were 273 travel associated Zika cases reported in the U.S. Doctors have been warning patients, especially women of childbearing age, to stay away from South and Central America and the Caribbean — all top destinations for L.A. and New York families on school break or planning other spring getaways.
“We prefer to avoid mosquito territory with my kids, so we’ll be skiing in [Park City’s] Deer Valley,” says Larry Mestel, CEO of Primary Wave Entertainment. And both Park City, Utah, and Mammoth just got a ton of snow. Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Brentwood meditation mecca Unplug, canceled her family’s Costa Rica plans due to Zika concerns; they’ll instead siesta in Spain.
“If my wife were pregnant or we were planning another child soon, we would be very hesitant to take trips to any hotspots,” says Gotham actor Drew Powell. One studio executive who’s two months pregnant canceled a trip to the Caribbean. “I’m not taking any chances,” she told THR. “Our son was a little upset, but he’s really excited about San Diego now, and I’m mentally preparing for a trip to Legoland.” San Diego is one of several warm-weather destinations across the U.S., including Orlando, Fla., and Phoenix, that have seen higher demand in light of Zika, according to Expedia. The average stay at the W Scottsdale jumped from three nights in previous years to four this March and April.
But the widespread understanding that the risk applies only to expectant (or hopeful) moms is leaving many sanguine. “It’s mostly a threat to pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant, and neither apply to me,” says Irene Flores, entertainment partner at Eisner Jaffe. “There is likely more risk of serious illness by being at my kids’ school during flu season.” Brant Pinvidic, executive producer of Extreme Weight Loss, has “zero concerns about Zika,” he says. “I’m looking into hotspots because of the great deals.”
Zika has driven down prices in some areas — the Bahamas’ Paradise Island shows a 45 percent drop in hotel rates. “But travelers won’t find deals with the word ‘Zika’ in them,” says John E. DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com. “Instead, hotels are offering summer discounts earlier or resort credits or a night free.” Kara Slater, family travel expert for SmartFlyer, reports numerous cancellations to the Caribbean and Central America. “Prices may not have come down yet, but there’s a lot more spaces to fill,” she says.
Still, many in Hollywood are forging ahead but keeping in mind Zika’s level 2 travel alert: Practice enhanced precautions. “No cancellations for us,” WME partner Alexis Garcia told THR. “We’re still going to the Caribbean and Miami with our kids. We’ll be applying lots of bug spray.” So will actress Melissa Joan Hart, a mother of three, who’s heading to the Dominican Republic for her 40th birthday in May. “If we decide to have another, I’ll do tons of advance screening,” she says. “If we decide not to have a fourth child, Zika could be one of the factors.”
This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.