Arnie WeissmannOn the eve of Travel Weekly going to press with a Page 1 story about the upcoming elections, I found myself, by happenstance, in conversation with political commentator Chris Matthews.

The host of MSNBCs Hardball was talking about how, earlier that day, he had grilled Kitty Kelley, author of a book critical of the president, in an interview. Bush-lovers will be happy as they watch Hardball tonight, he said.

He called Kerry a weak candidate but said he felt that in years when an incumbent is up for re-election, its the incumbents record the electorate should focus on. The question is, do you want to continue to go in the direction youre heading? Thats what happens when you re-elect an incumbent.

Its hard to imagine what might have changed in the travel industry over the past four years, no matter who had been president. Regardless of our leadership, 9/11 would have shattered the industry for the balance of that year and much of the next. True, the months of saber rattling leading to the war in Iraq did more to hurt the industry than the war itself, but SARS, continuing threats of terrorism and a weak economy would have put the kibosh on growth in the industry in 2003 anyway.

Even the industrys recovery this year seems disconnected to politics -- its the result of pent-up demand dovetailing with psychological adjustment to the post-9/11 environment.

So, I asked Matthews what clues he could gather from the incumbents policies over the past four years that might shed light on the possible direction of the travel industry over the next four.

The course of the last four years has been towards isolationism, he said. The industry is vulnerable to terrorism, and if we want to catch terrorists, law and order has got to be a global effort. We need France. We need Germany. We have Blair, but we dont have his people. We have Musharraf, but we dont have his people.

And people are important to the equation. When I was young, I hitchhiked around Africa and felt a tremendous sense of goodwill towards the U.S. Now, the world is lining up against us. We need them. Whoever is elected has got to think about that carefully.

On the eve of the landfall of Ivan the Terrible, John Noel, TravelGuard Insurances president, seemed unconcerned with the consequences of a third round of claims from travelers whose plans were disrupted by hurricanes this year.

He and his wife, Patty, were being honored with a Medallion of Hope from the Nyumbani Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, which provides a home for HIV-positive orphans.

The industry was well represented during a dinner benefiting the orphanage. Giuseppe Cecchi, another medallion recipient, is owner of the Wyndham Washington Hotel and the Washington and Arlington Renaissance hotels. A representative of Kenya-based Micato Safaris, which arranges visits to the childrens home for its clients, was in attendance.

The homes director, Rev. Angelo DAgostino, talked about how British Airways pilots and flight attendants made regular visits with supplies.

Regardless of whos elected in November, the U.S. travel industry can do much to generate goodwill toward traveling Americans.

For information about joining Noels efforts, go to www.noelgroup.com and click Philanthropic Vision.

A final note: On autumns eve, a winter chill has touched the industry with the passing of Marriotts Terry Lee, 54, whose life underscored the importance of personal relationships in business.

Theres no question that he brought profound insight about travel distribution systems to the companies for which he worked, but his effectiveness was greatly amplified by his genuine interest in the people who make up the industry.

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