Arnie WeissmannFirst, a big shout-out to Bill La Macchia Sr., Ray Snisky and Lauren Schreiner of Mark Travel Corp.

They have been conducting ongoing, proprietary research about consumer travel habits to better understand the impact of the recession on their customers.

With this data, they presumably are developing more relevant products, positioned to resonate with the clients of Funjet Vacations, Blue Sky Tours, Southwest Airlines Vacations and their other brands.

Of course, it's not unusual for large travel companies to conduct this type of research. What is unusual is to offer to share that information.

In a call with the three Mark Travel execs last spring, La Macchia explained to me that they realized the data they were gathering could benefit the entire industry, and he offered to make it available through Travel Weekly in hopes that the results could help others.

That was a generous offer indeed, and I would like to thank them publicly.

To see highlights of the Mark Travel research findings, see Page C14 in the Consumer Trends section. 

• • •

Headlines over the past few weeks reminded me that from 1984 to 1989, Travel Weekly was owned by Rupert Murdoch.

If News of the World was only 1% of his holdings, it's hard to imagine what tiny fraction we represented.

But my predecessor, Alan Fredericks, told me that, in those days at least, Murdoch paid a lot of attention to what was going on at his publications. Shortly after Murdoch acquired Travel Weekly, he visited Fredericks for an education about how the travel industry worked and what the most important issues were. He was, Fredericks said, a very quick study.

Reading the recent reports about News Corp. made me wonder how things might be different if we were still part of his empire. Would I be under arrest for hacking Mike Batt's phone to get the scoop on Travel Leaders' next acquisition? Or for tapping into Andy Stuart's email account to get unreleased details on Norwegian Cruise Line's "Project Breakaway" ships?

The possibilities are endless, but as it stands, our reporters are a bit more conventional in their news gathering techniques.

• • •

The July 20 New York Times headline wasn't surprising, yet it still made me wince: "Geography report card finds students lagging."

The results of the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka "the nation's geography report card," were not encouraging. Only 20% of high school seniors were deemed "proficient," a slight decline from when the test was last administered, in 2001.

Eighth-graders held their own (27% were proficient), and fourth-graders rose to 21% proficiency.

The chairman of the test's governing board, the Times reported, noted that "geography is not just about maps. It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures."

I hate to be the one to break it to academia, but most of what we know about geography was learned on vacation, not in school.

How many children would know where Turks and Caicos is -- never mind having actually visited it -- were it not for Beaches?

And thanks to the cruise industry, many more people have a sense of what islands are in the Eastern Caribbean vs. the Western Caribbean.

I would bet more Americans could identify South Africa, Kenya and Egypt on a blank map of Africa than countries that have fewer tourists.

When I first went to Europe, I, like thousands of young Americans looking for the cheapest way across the Atlantic, flew on Icelandic Airlines (now Icelandair), which landed in Luxembourg City.

That fluke gave a generation of travelers a far better understanding of Europe than if they had flown into Paris, London or Rome. I suspect very few of us actually stayed in Luxembourg for long, and from there, we had to figure out our way across the Continent. For me, it was a geography crash course that taught more than I had learned in primary and secondary schools combined.

The Times article quoted a geography professor at Penn State who observed that "geography's role in the curriculum is limited and, at best, static."

In school curricula, yes. But on vacations, it's advancing.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter. 


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