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Zika’s sting: a slump in Miami bookings for Art Basel week

Galleries undeterred, but groupies could be

As the art world prepares for Art Basel in Miami Beach, which runs from 1 to 4 December, tourism data suggest that fear of the mosquito-borne Zika virus there may mean thinner crowds at the US’s premier art fair, which last year attracted 77,000 attendees.

Lio Chen, the vice president of operations at LodgIQ, a hotel revenue management platform, reported that October bookings for the first week of December were down by between 5% and 6% in Miami Beach compared with last year, which saw torrential downpours. That is consistent with other figures, such as those from industry researcher STR, which saw the average daily room rate drop by 5.3% for August 2016 compared with August 2015.

“The swagger of Miami Beach is being tested,” says Scott Berman, the Miami-based US hospitality and leisure practice leader for professional services network PwC. “When you look at the metrics of the hotel industry over the past month, it’s a tale of woe, meaning lots of cancellations, lots of groups that are not considering Greater Miami for their next event.”

Fewer hangers-on? In the past year, Florida reported 179 locally originated cases of Zika, the effects of which can be serious, especially for pregnant women. Hoping to halt the spread, the city has resorted to aerially distributed pesticides, despite protests from locals over environmental concerns.

The LodgIQ data reveal that the drop-off is steeper for individual rather than group bookings, which suggests that collectors and advisers may be giving the fair a miss this year. But galleries have not changed their plans. A spokeswoman for Art Basel says that, while organisers are following health officials’ Zika reports, “none of our exhibitors or partners have cancelled their participation in the upcoming show as a result of it”.

Indeed, some see that lower turnout could be an advantage: “I’m really hoping it wipes out that whole fashion-y hangers-on contingent that goes to the fair,” says one gallery director, who asked for anonymity. Madonna, at any rate, has said she will still be going, and will perform at the new Faena Forum on 2 December.