Ask the Doc

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he ASTA congress wrapped up last week in New York. It offered features like those included on programs at congresses past. Also, as with previous years, there really were several conventions under way simultaneously.

Which one or two of those different congresses you experience depends on what you aim to accomplish at the congress and the sorts of business entities or events you seek out.

For the press, there is the public convention -- speeches, seminars and the like -- and there is the congress that is a string of media events.

As a result, our coverage of an ASTA congress doesn't precisely reflect what any given delegate experiences.

Through the device of a press event, suppliers or other interests or even ASTA can relay information to the trade that there may not be time or an appropriate place for on the regular program.

This year, media events included at least three that focused on factors that have become bigger issues with customers recently: security, insurance and health.

• Several biometrics experts demonstrated hand-geometry, facial-recognition and fingerprint aviation security technologies. These capabilities have been deployed in selected places.

The message from the event, cosponsored by ASTA and IATA, was that the tools already exist for making our airways much safer, but the issue is ensuring that the investment is made to bring airport security to the levels we need.

• Travel Guard discussed "the current state of travel insurance." Its chief executive, John Noel, is worried that travelers may lose access to insurance that covers for supplier failure. Several other insurers have ceased providing this coverage, and the remaining insurers may not find it practical to carry the risk alone, he said.

Meanwhile, Travel Guard said, the portion of leisure clients buying insurance has shot up since Sept. 11, from about 8% to anywhere from 35% to 50%.

• ASTA and Pharmacia Corp. sponsored a briefing on travel health, featuring Dr. Michael Cohen, a psychologist and member of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's crisis response team, and Dr. Bradley Connor, a frequent contributor to Travel Weekly.

You are going to like their message. Yes, stress is keeping people from travel now, but both men predicted the American public will resume travel over the holidays because of the importance of family gatherings, especially this year. Setting aside economic issues, Dr. Cohen said travel is "critical" to America's mental health.

In other words, it is what the doctor ordered, and you can quote him.

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