t the reception preceding the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) presentation of its Blueprint for New Tourism, the buzz was about the Far & Wide bankruptcy.

In the clubby world of the WTTC -- its membership is limited to 100 executives of top travel companies -- Far & Wide is one of its own. Members have known its president, Phil Bakes, professionally and personally for many years. Some anger was expressed toward the absent Bakes; this is the third time he has been involved in a bankruptcy that has adversely affected some of his fellow members, and one person said he'd like to kick Bakes below his beltline. But mostly there was amazement that the company could have gotten as far as $100 million-plus in debt without word getting out.

The discussion moved to one of Far & Wide's financial backers, Cerberus, which is in court arguing that it should be awarded the remaining $500,000 in cash that Far & Wide still has, rather than letting the company keep the money to try to reorganize. (Cerberus is making claims for $8.5 million of the more than $100 million.)

Separately, Cerberus is attempting to buy Alamo/National and Air Canada out of bankruptcy, and there was consensus among those in the discussion that if Cerberus wants to play in the travel field, it might be wise to leave the money in as an expression of goodwill.

The points debated in conversation among WTTC members provided an interesting juxtaposition to what was to come next on the agenda: the presentation of the Blueprint for New Tourism. To lift the travel industry out of its funk, the plan calls for governments around the world to work in partnership with the private sector to support tourism and for businesses to adopt policies that are supportive of local cultures, the environment and their employees.

If the blueprint already had been in place and embraced by the public and private sectors, would it have saved Far & Wide? Theoretically, it could have: A public/private partnership that elevated travel and tourism to a "high priority" would have had a positive effect on the industry in general, which might have strengthened Far & Wide's bottom line.

But in realpolitik terms, U.S. homeland security policy decisions, which often conflict with the interests of the travel industry, will never be addressed in a spirit of collaboration, not with the private sector and not with other countries. The government may make accommodations here or there, but it is no true partnership.

In the final analysis, when there is something substantial at stake, both public and private sectors pursue courses of self-interest. Cerberus will pursue the $500,000 without regard to its impact on consumers or the trade, and it will pursue acquisition of other assets it thinks are good investments without regard to what others may say about its behavior.

Likewise, the current administration has demonstrated that it will propose what it wants without having thought through the ramifications on travel and tourism. However well-intentioned, if the Blueprint for New Tourism depends upon travel and tourism being given high priority by U.S. policy makers, then it's very unlikely that a structure will ever be built from these blueprints.

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Look for additional details on this article in the Oct. 13 issue of Travel Weekly.


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