The United Nations World Tourism Organization hopes to counter any future panic about bird flu through an online information source for the travel trade.

Its Sos.travel site, launched at German travel show ITB in Berlin, will offer the latest World Health Organization and UN updates, along with emergency systems developed by tourism organisations.

UNWTO assistant secretary-general Geoffrey Lipman said: “We want information in a single place for agents, tour operators and airlines.

“At the moment, people are not concerned about avian flu but if it moves from its current phase there will be panic, because it cannot be contained. As an industry, we need to be aware of ways to play down the panic.”

So far bird flu has only affected people living or working closely with poultry and has not passed between people but it is feared this could change as the virus mutates.

Lipman said: “The WHO is concerned about travel, but not convinced closing borders will contain the virus. The implications are not fully thought through and the closure of borders is not ruled out.”

The UNWTO has set up a tourism emergency response network to provide advice. It comprises 16 tourism organisations but Lipman hopes to see up to 200 involved.

He declined to comment on the recent outbreak of bird flu in the UK, but said: “It is essential governments understand they have to be open and honest.

“Fast and correct reporting is vital. If you are not honest, people will stop listening to you. The UN tells me we are providing a prototype for the rest of the industry.”

The UNWTO hopes the site will become the first port of call for the trade in any emergency, not just a bird flu crisis.