week ago in this space, we said that
ending the war on terrorism tops our wish list for 2004. Everything
else is a distant second, but since it's an election year, there
will be much talk about what the government can or can't do for
travel. Here's our first stab at a short list of what would work
• The U.S. government and the travel industry have to come to
terms on how to facilitate and promote travel to the U.S., not just
by tourists but by students, educators, researchers, consultants,
buyers, sellers and businesspeople of all kinds. A sensible
partnership in promoting this country's destinations abroad is a
key step, but we must also have a foreign policy and security
apparatus that is not inimical to travel and the numerous
commercial and cultural activities it supports.
• Federal and local governments must lighten the tax load on
airline passengers. Airline tickets are burdened by the excise tax,
the segment fee, the international tax, the security fee, the
airport passenger facility charge, etc. In short, the taxes and
fees are just too numerous and too high. We don't know where all
this money goes, but some of it has to come from someplace
• The Department of Transportation (DOT) has to terminate its
clumsy efforts to regulate the evolution of the GDS business.
Twenty years have passed since the dire warnings of market power,
bias and the other evils that prevailed when airlines operated the
GDS systems as in-house instruments of subterfuge and espionage.
Those days are gone. Not only have the DOT's rules become
hopelessly outdated because of political and bureaucratic inertia,
its latest proposals for reform were ill-informed, dated and
backward-looking for the same reasons. Federal regulators can't
keep up with the pace of change, and that alone proves there's no
benefit from continuing DOT regulation of travel distribution
• This country has to get serious about the future of high-speed
surface transportation. We have been saying in this space for far
too long that rail travel has no hope of making its appropriate
contribution to a balanced transportation system without a stable
source of capital for basic infrastructure. For 32 years, Amtrak
has relied on an annual appropriation from Congress, a ritual that
turns rail travel into a political football and makes a mockery of
planning. Frankly, we're sometimes amazed that Amtrak, with all its
faults, manages as well as it does. As for the future, our nation
will require more fast train service, not less.
• More needs to be done to open domestic markets to development
by the major cruise lines. Century-old laws are preventing cruise
lines from offering numerous promising coastal itineraries.
• End the Cuba travel restrictions. If we've learned anything in
the past four decades, it is this: Nothing the U.S. does or fails
to do is going to end or prolong Castro's regime. It seems cold to
say it, but we all know it to be true: He is Cuba's president for
life. In the meantime, we should do all we can to promote commerce,
trade, education and communication at all levels.