The travel industrys recovery since 9/11 has been well documented, but trouble spots remain -- and we dont mean just the airline industry. We mean the international side of it all, the inbound market, the part of the travel business that brought 46 million foreign visitors to the U.S. last year and added $87 billion in consumer spending to industry coffers.

These are good numbers and they showed healthy increases in 2004, but they still lag behind the peak year of 2000 when the U.S. hosted 51 million foreign visitors, who spent $103 billion. That means we still have to close a $16 billion gap. U.S. travel companies need that $16 billion. The U.S. economy needs it. The U.S. balance of payments needs it.

The weak dollar has been doing its part to attract foreign visitors, but the image of the U.S. overseas is still not everything it once was, and U.S. entry requirements seem to be more daunting than they ever were. In the global competition for international travel, the U.S. has been losing market share to more welcoming countries.

The Travel Industry Association (TIA) has been doing everything it can to spread the See America message in foreign markets, and the centerpiece of that effort is about to unfold in New York this week, with the opening of the 37th annual TIA International Pow Wow.

At this conference and marketplace, U.S. suppliers from Alamo to Wyndham and U.S. destinations from the Adirondacks to Wyoming, will set up shop in 1,200 booths to meet with 1,500 tour operators and travel arrangers from 70 countries. We did the math: The result is a gazillion deals for bringing group and individual travelers to the U.S. from foreign countries.

For those U.S.-based travel sellers and suppliers that are principally focused on U.S. residents, there may be little reason to care much about TIAs annual Pow Wow. But you neednt be directly involved in the inbound market to understand and appreciate how the entire industry benefits when this sector is performing well. We can think of 16 billion reasons to care.

So even if youre not at Pow Wow this week, we invite you to join us in wishing TIA every success in its efforts to invigorate the U.S. inbound market.



Switcheroo

The GDS wars took an interesting turn last week when G2 SwitchWorks disclosed that a gaggle of airlines had agreed to prepay the booking fee for several million transactions to jump-start the fledgling alternative GDS.

We cant remember the last time an airline willingly paid a GDS booking fee in advance, which makes this up-front payment from the cash-strapped airline industry somewhat thought-provoking.

It seems to speak volumes to G2s credibility, but it may also indicate that G2 needs the cash more than the airlines do -- or that the airlines merely want to show the GDSs how much theyd rather switch than fight.

G2 claims to be cheaper and better, but it probably doesnt have to be. For todays airlines, cheaper is better.

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