by Loren G. Edelstein | August 19, 2016

With a growing number of nontravel-related Zika cases reported in South Florida, many tourists are concerned about travel to the state but still plan to come, revealed a new study by the University of Florida.

According to the study, conducted by the university's Tourism Crisis Management Initiative and released on Aug. 11, more than 70 percent of intentional visitors were concerned with the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Florida. Of those who expressed concern, however, fewer than 10 percent changed their travel plans.

Of the 10 percent who changed their plans, the majority postponed their travel (60 percent), while 25 percent went somewhere else. Of those who changed their plans, about 15 percent consulted a medical professional before making a decision.

The study also showed that 45 percent of the respondents had medium to high levels of knowledge about the Zika virus as a result of coverage on social media (36 percent) and televised news (27 percent).

Researchers surveyed 828 people, all in the U.S., who planned to travel to Florida within the next six months. The survey was conducted three days after 15 nontravel-related cases of Zika were discovered in Miami-Dade County. Most respondents were aware that the outbreak was confined to a small portion of that county.

Interestingly, 82 percent were aware of recommended protective behaviors, such as using insect repellant, staying indoors with air conditioning, and using screened windows and doors to avoid contact with mosquitoes.

"Making insect repellent available for guests in public areas of hotels and other public accommodations, as well as directing them to information sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, would help to build protective behaviors," said Ignatius Cahyanto of Black Hills State University, lead study researcher and affiliate researcher for the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative.

Respondents citied the CDC as the primary source for information (85 percent), followed by updates from the destination itself (58 percent).

"Ensuring that timely, accurate and up-to-date information is available for visitors on the tourist bureau's website, as well as partner websites, is critical," said Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the TCMI. "Directing visitors to the destination's site and the CDC will keep visitors informed when they book their trips."