A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, representatives from the American Society of Travel Agents and the Association of Retail Travel Agents, armed with naught but briefcases and dedication, would appear together in government hearing rooms to petition the government for the redress of grievances, to testify on behalf of "the travel agent industry," and for other noble purposes.

But that was then. Now they're bickering.

We're not sure when it began, but a widening rift between these two organizations in recent years appears to have gone from bad to worse. We have never expected trade organizations to agree on everything, or even most things, but what exists between ASTA and ARTA at the moment is not a disagreement. It's sniping.

For example, after participating in a consumer advisory board meeting recently at the Transportation Department, ARTA issued a press release, ostensibly to summarize its presentation. But the release carried this headline: "ARTA was the Only Association to Tackle Certain Proposals Contemplated by the DOT -- Other Associations, Including ASTA, Sat Silent."

Our point here is not that one side or the other went to the Dark Side first. Our point is that this atmosphere does the industry no good. Neither ASTA nor ARTA is so rich with resources that it can afford to waste them by bashing the other.

The Transportation Department has before it a proposal, suggested by ASTA, that the government should order airlines to display all ancillary services, and make them available for booking, in agency GDSs.

The DOT is also weighing the prospect of imposing a new regulatory regime on travel agents by requiring agents to adopt "minimum customer service standards" and to disclose information regarding their incentive commissions and the nature of any "preferential display" of fares or carriers used on their Web displays.

These are significant policy issues that could have an enormous impact on agents and others in the distribution chain. We believe they are best understood and debated in an atmosphere untainted by disparaging comments about the guy on the other side of the aisle.

For that we can watch Congress on C-Span.
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