One of Monty Pythons funniest
skits is The Argument Clinic, about a place where people pay to
engage a professional arguer. Is this the right room for an
argument? a customer asks upon entering. Ive told you once, snaps
the man sitting behind a desk. No, you havent. Yes, I have. And on
it goes for five minutes.
In putting a story
about Grand Circle Travel on Page 1 of last weeks Travel Weekly, we
worried a bit that we might find ourselves sitting in a room at the
Argument Clinic with some readers. The article detailed the rise of
a successful tour operation that claims to have grown to $600
million in sales by ignoring conventional marketing strategies,
eschewing both travel agents and Web marketing.
Our reporter, David
Cogswell, detailed how the company operates, presented the founders
marketing philosophy, and also quoted critics and other observers
of the company.
We anticipated that
some readers would reflexively categorize the article as being
anti-travel agent. Indeed, we got a few angry responses. One
letter-writer called for firing Cogswell and demanded an apology to
the industry. Another reader phoned our news editor to protest
angrily, and then hung up on him as he tried to respond.
reminded me of another part of the Monty Python skit where the
customer begins to tire of the automatic responses:
Customer: Look, this isnt an
Staffer: Yes, it is.
Customer: No it isnt, its just
Staffer: No, it isnt.
Customer: Yes, it is.
But Im happy to
report that the reflexive opposition to coverage of any company
challenging traditional models proved to be the exception. Taken as
a whole, the responses reflect an open-mindedness and business
sophistication. On the TravelWeekly.com Forum, where emotions can run high
and conspiracy theories abound, the thread on the Grand Circle
story had a sanguine tone.
I see room at the
table for all of us, wrote one contributor. The reality is that
some consumers will always be direct buyers and others will use the
services of a qualified travel consultant.
What also came out
in the Forum was that some readers read the article and gleaned
intelligence about a competitor. (I always thought Grand Circle was
just a medium-size company, the thread begins.) Another reader, who
had taken a Grand Circle tour, used the forum to report on her
experience with the firms delivery -- and she praised
Grand Circle even
had agents willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. After one
contributor suggested that the company had been handed a silver
spoon when it obtained the AARP mailing list, another countered
that Im sure they worked their butts off putting together a great
business and marketing plan and then proceeded to work their butts
off again to get that deal done.
We knew the Grand
Circle story would grab readers attention, but our purpose was not
to create controversy. Our mission is to inform readers about
developments in the industry. We dont believe readers expect Travel
Weekly to be cheerleaders for certain distribution
What we do believe
is that information is the key to any successful business, even if,
or especially if, that information runs contrary to our
" " "
A friend of mine, a
singer-songwriter, is heading to London to perform. I e-mailed him
to ask if he had any hesitation to go after the bombings. Id like
to share his response:
I didnt consider
canceling. I look at it as a luxury to be going to London now, even
a lucky break. I have a lot of friends there and want to see them
all. There are a few places far from home that Ive had the pleasure
of getting to know well, NYC and London being two. After the bombs,
my reaction was the same as after 9/11. I want to rush to the
cities as if they were friends in times of trouble. I want to walk
the streets, go to my favorite places, see the people I know, spend
some money. Running, or avoiding these cities, is the opposite of
what should happen.
As an artist, I
hope to do what I did in NYC three weeks after 9/11 -- soak it up,
be an observer, not a tourist. Seeing the sites of the bombings
isnt necessary. Sensing the people and the air, the vibe if you