Outbreaks of communicable diseases, particularly those with the potential of becoming global pandemics, have important implications for all sectors of the travel and tourism industry. It is hardly surprising that the recent outbreak of swine flu has raised many concerns on the safety of travel. Travel and tourism industry organizations and governments are clearly cautious about conducting business as usual and allowing their employees to travel, and consumers are anxious as to the risks they might be taking if they do not cancel their travel plans.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is monitoring the situation as it develops, together with – and on behalf of – its members, and is in close contact with the World Health Organization (WHO), which is coordinating the global response and assessing the corresponding threat of an influenza pandemic.

For the time being at least, although the situation is evolving rapidly, WHO advises no restriction of regular travel, nor closure of borders. But it does consider it prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities. Up-to-date information is available on WHO’s website at: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/ .

WTTC would like to stress that the level of preparedness for such a pandemic within the industry is much better than most people realize, since mechanisms to deal with global health risks have been stepped up considerably since SARS and avian flu last tested the resilience of the travel and tourism industry.

The present economic uncertainties have already taken a heavy toll on demand across the globe, and they will continue to endanger millions of jobs in one of the largest industries in the world. The swine flu outbreak is compounding the ailments of the global economy just as there are signs it might be starting to stabilize, darkening the outlook for everything from tourism to world trade. While nobody knows what the implications of a potential pandemic would be, a study commissioned by WTTC after the outbreak of SARS from its research partner Oxford Economics suggests that the impact could be severe and prolonged.

Amid all this uncertainty, WTTC believes it is vital to highlight the importance of the travel and tourism industry as a catalyst, promoting economic diversity and generating wealth and employment in all areas of the world and at all levels of the economy.

The aim of WTTC is to call on governments to work in partnership with the industry to help restore confidence in travel and tourism and in the industry’s efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of its customers, as well as protecting the livelihoods of travel organizations and their staff.

The situation is admittedly one causing serious concern, and the industry must act responsibly, but there is no need for panic.