Editorials Bad first impression January 26, 2009 Share 1 -- If you believe the cliche about first impressions, then we're sorry to inform you that our industry may not have made a good first impression on the 111th Congress and the new Obama administration. By now we all know that the U.S. Travel Association is the product of a merger between the Travel Industry Association and the Travel Business Roundtable. Just prior to the inauguration, U.S. Travel unveiled its policy agenda and proclaimed to the media that the industry's lobbying arm could now speak with "one voice." On the same day, however, 14 other travel-related organizations, over U.S. Travel's objections, were transmitting a different action agenda to the Obama transition team. This is not "one voice." The differences between the two agendas are not large and, publicly at least, leaders of the different organizations are playing down the disunity. But in matters such as these, differences and disagreements don't have to be large to be damaging. For years the political pros have looked upon the travel industry as an ineffective lobbying force because it was made up of many organizations with different advocates and different agendas. It was fragmented, uncoordinated, sometimes amateurish. Elected officials have been known to look travel people in the eye and say things like, "We can't work with you on this bill because we need everybody on board, and you don't have all your people together on this." The differences between the two travel agendas might not seem large to the rest of us, but to the politicos, the mere existence of two agendas that purport to be from "the travel industry" raises a red flag. U.S. Travel has made great progress in the last two years with the Travel Promotion Act and other policy initiatives, but it seems a bit premature for it to lay claim to being the industry's one voice. That's not what we're hearing. The shape of things to come Bit by little bit, an enormous air travel enterprise is taking shape. It began in the early 1990s when Northwest and KLM formed an alliance and began a trend. At the time, Northwest was by no means the largest transatlantic carrier in the U.S., and KLM was among the smallest of Europe's national carriers. Today Northwest is part of Delta and KLM is part of Air France, and all four brands are pursuing a strategy to take their alliance to the next level, creating a joint venture that would behave as if it were one company. Such a "virtual merger" was on the minds of Northwest and KLM in the previous century, but what's different this time is that Delta and Air France are, by some measures, the two largest airlines in the world. Armed with a grant of antitrust immunity, their joint venture, which operates more than 700 weekly transatlantic flights, is now presenting European corporations and travel sellers with consolidated sales contracts, to improve efficiency and to offer their customers "global breadth." As they stated in a press release, "In this way, Air France, Delta and KLM have the competitive edge in the world's biggest air transport market." What began as a strategy to give two smaller players a competitive edge has now given the core members of the SkyTeam alliance a very big edge over the rival Oneworld and Star Alliance groupings. Is it too big?