Arnie Weissmann 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.

Those reactions 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 argument.

Staffer: Yes, it is.

Customer: No it isnt, its just contradiction.

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 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 it.

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 channels.

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 assumptions.

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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 will, is.


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