Travel people of a certain age remember Alfred Kahn as the guy who deregulated the airlines during the Carter administration. He did it so well that he was invited to work at the White House as the "inflation czar."
Kahn didn't control inflation nearly as well as he deregulated the airlines, but he left his mark, if for no other reason than his candor.
Chided by the White House for openly referring to the possibility of a recession, Kahn (who had a pretty good sense of humor) agreed never to use the word again, but to refer to it as a "banana." That is how it came to pass that news reports of the era treated us to the image of a slightly disheveled economist looking straight-faced at congressional committees and saying things like, "We could be headed for a banana."
We remember those sound bites fondly for enlivening the otherwise dreary economic news of 1979.
There are fears in the air again this year that we're already in a banana, but we believe those fears are misguided. In fact, we can prove it.
A banana, be it remembered, has a fairly precise definition: two consecutive quarters of declines in the gross domestic product (GDP).
That hasn't happened. According to the Commerce Department, real GDP grew 4.9% in the third quarter of 2007 and rose 0.6% in the fourth quarter.
Obviously, there was a significant slowdown in GDP growth in the fourth quarter, but it didn't slip into the negative. So, no banana -- at least not yet.
We won't know for sure for a few more months. The earliest that the economists could make it official and verify all the ingredients for a banana would be the end of the second quarter, as we move from June into July.
Not only is this the midpoint of the year, it happens to be the peak of the peak travel season, which means a good bit of the travel industry's business for 2008 will already be booked before we know whether we have a certified banana on our hands.
So what does this have to do with travel people?
It means that travel sellers should promote now and sell now, before the banana gets here. Once the economists start using the word "banana," it will be too late.
This is called making hay before the banana arrives. In fact, if we make enough hay, there won't be a banana.
The late Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski came up with a great title for his 1971 novel, "Being There," which later became a hit movie starring Peter Sellers. The story offers twists and turns on the theme of perception versus reality, and one lesson to take away from it all is that there's no substitute for "being there."
That was the thinking behind Senior Editor Michelle Baran's trip to Kenya, where she and her traveling companions witnessed the Kenya we've all seen on television, but the Kenya Baran observed turned out to be the images of National Geographic rather than Fox News.
As many of us know from experience, and as Micato Safaris' Dennis Pinto reminds us on the facing page, the negative impressions of disasters and civil unrest don't always fade fast enough.
Fortunately, travel sellers have the tools to find the truth, and the best one is to go there yourself. You are never more convincing to clients than when you say, "I just returned from there, and I can tell you ..."