Health issues can have some of the most “significant” and “devastating” effects on whether people travel, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization secretary-general Taleb Rifai.

Rifai, who was speaking at the WTM Vision – The Global Economic Forum session at World Travel Market today, said that health challenges can have a bigger impact than even the current financial crisis.

He said: “People will not go to places if there are clear health risks.”

He said Mexico had been remarkable in dealing with the outbreak of swine flu and said: “We have never been as prepared as we are now to deal with a health crisis.”

P&O Cruises managing director Carol Marlow admitted health issues such as swine flu are a challenge for the industry.

She said: “We have strict screening for customers coming onto our ships. When swine flu hit Mexico some cruise ships had to change their itineraries. It is a challenge, but we do have strict rules and regulations.”