Some travelers are sticking with planned trips to Mexico despite the swine flu scare, but others are postponing vacations or switching to the Caribbean or sunny beaches elsewhere.
Kevin Stickle of Ferndale, Wash., departed Tuesday from Seattle with his wife for a weeklong beach vacation in Ixtapa despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's recommendation to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.
"The combination of fabulous weather, great beaches and food, another culture and some common sense far outweighs any fear or hysteria headlines that might tempt me to stay home," said Stickle.
Other travelers are canceling even if they're not worried about catching swine flu.
"We just didn't want to get there and have the restaurants closed and the resort half-empty," said Jeff Stumbo of San Diego, who, with three friends, called off an annual guys' getaway to go biking and snorkeling in Playa del Carmen.
He and his friends have young children and jobs, and they also worried they might get stranded: "We didn't want to get to our destination, have a good trip, and then something happens and we're stuck in the airport."
Stumbo said they got refunds from Expedia and will rebook to Playa del Carmen once the swine flu scare is over.
But some travelers are switching itineraries. "The ones that seem to be the most popular for alternatives seem to be the Dominican Republic and Jamaica," said Bob Whitley, head of the U.S. Tour Operators Association.
Travel experts from Tripology.com were booking clients to a variety of alternative destinations. Jon Haraty, a Tripology expert from Jon's Dive & Travel Services in East Longmeadow, Mass., said he sent clients who were considering Cancun to Barbados instead. Cathy Jackson from Sunsational Vacations in Jackson, N.J., rebooked a Mexico cancellation to Miami. And Barbara Gomez, a Tripology travel expert based in Green Lane, Pa., said: "I am not taking any chances. I am offering Jamaica or Punta Cana (in the Dominican Republic) to my clients as an alternative."
Sallie Rawlings, spokeswoman for Travel Impressions, a travel wholesaler, said hotels with facilities in both Mexico and the Caribbean were switching customers from Mexican resorts to their island resorts.
But not every traveler is looking for a generic beach vacation. Victor Emanuel Nature Tours of Austin, Texas, is going ahead with a 10-day birdwatching trip to Chiapas, Mexico, in May.
"We called the people booked on the tour, and as of now, they want to continue with it," said Victor Emanuel, who added that a birdwatching trip "is not something you do casually like going to a beach resort in Cancun." But he said the company will refund any participant who decides to cancel.
Eileen Ogintz, who writes about family travel at TakingtheKids.com, said "while people may not want to go to Mexico right now, they've probably not had so many deals to choose from since after 9/11 — and they can afford to stay places they might only have dreamed about a year ago because there are so many deals out there. A lot of people hit the Caribbean in summer with kids because it is so cheap — especially this year with resorts giving free nights, free kids clubs, resort credits and deeply discounted airfare."
Paul Motter, editor of Cruisemates.com, said: "I predict this could be a boon for Alaska cruises, where prices are still cheap."
Experts say the progression of the outbreak will determine its overall impact on leisure travel.
If the outbreak is contained, "the panic will subside very quickly and people will forget about it," said Abraham Pizam, dean of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. If the outbreak gets worse but is concentrated in Mexico, Pizam said the country will lose tourism the way Hong Kong did after the 2003 SARS outbreak, where "travel came to a standstill almost overnight."
But if swine flu keeps spreading globally, Pizam said "people will be afraid to go any place, which is similar to what happened after 9/11. It's already in Mexico, New Zealand, Israel, Scotland and New York."
Bjorn Hanson, professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, said he is already hearing that hotel cancellations are up slightly in the southwest U.S. "Consumers are thinking about what the feeder markets to Mexico are, where there has been travel to and from Mexico," he said.
He added that "with consumer confidence already at record lows, it's one more excuse to stay home."