If you love numbers, you will love the print issue of Travel Weekly because it includes our annual travel industry survey, which contains many numbers.

Sometimes, numbers speak for themselves and appear to need little or no explanation. But even simple numbers can mask complex trends, particularly when they reflect averages, as survey data necessarily must.

Our research, for example, indicates that the business mix at the average travel agency is about 67% leisure and about 60% domestic, and that airline seats account for about 36% of sales at the average agency.

It also shows that cruise lines and tour operators continue to derive most of their business from brick-and-mortar travel agencies, whereas hotels and car rental firms report that the traditional agency channel, on average, delivers less than 25% of their sales.

These seem to be important numbers, and our institutional ego will get a lift if industry people remember and rely on them or quote them as gospel.

But on another level, we have our usual misgivings about averages and the risky conclusions they sometimes suggest. If the typical agency is two-thirds leisure, does that mean that theres no future for agents in business travel? Hardly. And while airline sales account for a diminishing slice of the pie at the typical agency, we all know there are retailers who do a lot of air and who do it profitably -- just as there are hoteliers who get considerably more that 25% of their business from agents, and who are grateful for it.

At bottom, this special issue of numbers and graphs demonstrates the same thing that our news reports tell us day in and day out -- that the travel business is fluid and dynamic, but also broad and deep. Its products and services are arrayed across a wide spectrum, from commodity airline seats to unforgettable experiences at the most rarefied places on earth -- and now outer space. Its marketers and intermediaries are more varied than ever and are reinventing themselves faster than our statisticians can count and label them.

Charts and graphs and averages are like snapshots. They will never tell the whole story of this industry or illuminate the whole spectrum, any more than the U.S. Census can explain what its like to live in America. But they add to our understanding and serve as a guide to where we are and where we could be.

And in that sense, they point the way to possibilities.



The right thing

Sandals has done the right thing by making it clear to the travel community and to consumers that same-sex couples are now welcome. We welcome this development.

As many travel suppliers have found, it makes good business sense, as a marketing consultant might put it, to build bridges to this demographic group.

Equally compelling is the argument for fair treatment, toleration and open-mindedness -- the very qualities that travelers can acquire by not staying home.

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