yler Tanaka has a bit more perspective on the interplay between war and travel than the average industry observer. The founder and former president of Japan & Orient Tours -- he's now retired -- was working in the industry during the Korean conflict, the war in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.

And now comes the war on terror, and the industry again finds itself in crisis.

If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, I thought, perhaps it's time for a history lesson. I phoned Tanaka.

He began by telling me that he himself sought out voices of experience half a century ago.

A World War II vet, he remembers sitting down with legendary tour operators Burt Hemphill and Kent Harris to discuss how that war affected the industry.

"They said the travel agency and tour operator business all but disappeared during World War II," Tanaka said. "Travel agents and others who were of service age went into the transportation corps. Things had to start almost from scratch when the war ended."

Tanaka lesson No. 1: No matter how bad things may seem now, the industry has survived much worse.

Tanaka began his career at Pan Am, as a field agent focusing on Hawaii and Asia during the Korean conflict. "At that time, there was just a trickle of business to Japan. But it picked up because the costs to travel in Japan then were so reasonable, and the shopping was good."

Tanaka lesson No. 2: Price + time > fear.

Japan & Orient Tours was not yet a major operator in Asia when the Vietnam War built up. "We noticed that many servicemen went to Bangkok and Taipei, Taiwan, for rest and relaxation; they'd write letters home. These were not strong destinations, but we took advantage of the new curiosity about them.

"Our tours to Bangkok overflew

Da Nang, Vietnam, which was something travelers found exciting at the time," he continued. "Everyone was glued to the windows.

"We were small, and our business surged during the war. But many of my larger competitors were hit hard and had to close up shop. In retrospect, it was a good time for an emerging company."

Tanaka lesson No. 3: There are winners and losers in every environment. Small can be beautiful.

The Gulf War was bad for the industry in general, but Tanaka's business in the Far East was virtually untouched. He feels he can't take credit for having a good year -- he simply considers himself fortunate.

Tanaka lesson No. 4: Luck -- good and bad -- has its place in any equation.

What about travel and the war on terrorism?

Although Thailand may have benefited from world attention on Southeast Asia, Tanaka doesn't think that will happen for Afghanistan's regional neighbors like Iran or India, even though both countries have wonderful attractions.

He does predict a quickening recovery, with exceptions: Not only will central Asia stay down, but travelers will avoid two destinations thousands of miles away from Afghanistan: heavily Muslim Indonesia and the Philippines, where extreme Muslim insurgents have been making news.

Tanaka lesson No. 5: Have a good understanding of cultural, as well as physical, geography.

Class dismissed.


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