Business

Flu has little effect on businesses

Central Kentucky businesses are seeing a mixed reaction from swine-flu fears. Travel agencies seem to be the most affected as people change travel plans to avoid Mexico.

"Everybody we've had booked to Mexico has been calling us," said Terry Wollison, regional manager for The Travel Authority in Lexington. "Most of them are still going to travel, but they're going to different destinations."

Wollison said airlines have been allowing people to change their flights without penalties.

Christopher Oakford, a spokesman for AAA in Lexington, said the agency has also handled many changes.

"But that seems to be among people who are traveling in the next two weeks or so," he said. "The long-term view among travelers seems to be that this will be under control pretty quickly."

Wollison said corporate travel has also been affected, but it had already been slow.

"All our corporate travel has been cut back, not because of the swine flu, but because of the recession," she said. "It's been a challenge."

Kentucky businesses with operations in Mexico have been closely monitoring the situation, and in some cases, restricting travel.

Covington-based Ashland has restricted travel by its employees to Mexico, as has Toyota. The automaker has established a North American team to closely monitor the developments and has also limited international travel until further notice.

Lexmark International, which has a manufacturing plant in Juarez in northern Mexico, has not banned travel because no cases have been reported in that region of the country, spokesman Jerry Grasso said.

"We continue to actively monitor the situation and will take appropriate actions after due consideration of the variables, as the situation evolves," Grasso said.

Area restaurants and hotels say they haven't seen any impact from residents who might be staying inside and away from public spaces.

Larry Bell, general manager at the Hyatt Regency Lexington, said Derby weekend business is "down a little bit, but it has more to do with the economy than anything else."

The hotel has a couple of international conferences in the next few weeks, but "so far, we haven't seen any change in the travel pattern."

Stacy Roof, CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, said there's no sign yet that concerns over flu are keeping people from eating out, either. But she said that could change.

"Restaurants in the Louisville area and other parts of the state are flooded with people right now because of the Kentucky Derby," she said. "But I suspect that if we have more cases, people who are concerned will start to avoid any places where there are crowds of people. It won't be just a restaurant thing."

Lucie Slone-Meyers, owner of a la lucie and The Julep Cup in downtown Lexington, said "everybody's watching it, but I don't think it's slowed anything down at all."

She said she did rethink her pork orders before placing them on Thursday night.

"At Julep Cup on Monday, I made a pork and cabbage hot and sour soup. I stopped by on Wednesday and no one had eaten it," she said. "I'm probably not going to run any pork specials for a while."

She still placed her order, adding "it's kind of a silly thing, too, because you can't get it from eating pork."

One of Kentucky's most well-known pork producers, the F.B. Purnell Sausage Company in Simpsonville, said there's been no impact on orders there.

"This is the first inquiry we've had about it," said Tim Herndon, assistant plant manager. "It's been business as usual."

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