the season for making predictions about the new year. Judging from
what all the experts have been saying, 2008 is going to be all
about congestion, costs, credentials, credit, currency, customer
service, foreign investment, fuel, global warming, inflation, the
Internet, mergers, passports, presidential politics, security,
taxes, technology, visas and three players to be named.
The one thing that
none of the experts is predicting is that we will live in a simpler
world, that traveling from Point A to Point B will become easier
for people to do, or that travel will be easier to plan or more
profitable to sell or deliver.
In short we're going
to be increasingly at the mercy of the F-word: friction.
There's just too much
of it everywhere we look.
Friction is one of
those words the economists borrowed from the real world to describe
various costs or impediments to efficiency. It is sometimes taken
to mean "waste," or anything that slows down commerce, complicates
decision-making, interferes with the ease of transactions or keeps
us from getting to where we need to be.
What we have
witnessed in the travel business in recent years is an enormous
increase in friction of all kinds.
In the years
immediately after the events of 9/11, much of the friction was
external. World events, such as
terrorism, SARS and war, kept many U.S. travelers home or close to
home. Gradually, however, travel once again proved its resilience
and the market returned, but friction hasn't gone away.
In the airline
business, for example, heroic efforts to move to paperless
ticketing and reconciliation systems have
created efficiencies that are being negated by congestion, delays,
airport security hassles, visa/passport requirements, rising costs
We will be 50 years
into the jet age in 2008, and yet too many people believe that it's
harder to fly now that it ever was.
Even the Internet,
which was supposed to grease the wheels of supplier sales
departments, has encountered friction. Various analysts are now
complaining that booking (or selling) travel on the Web is no
longer the breeze it was once thought to be.
Friction also seems
to be one of the demons that has been driving legions of travel
agents to close their brick-and-mortar locations, relinquish their
ARC credentials and work from home. Countless agents have said they
made this move to create a simplified setting where they could
serve their clients more effectively and efficiently -- in short,
to reduce friction.
A good resolution for
2008 would be a vow to eliminate sources of friction in our lives,
in our businesses and in all our social and economic communities.
Whether for business or leisure, travel should be a force for
erasing friction in the world, but that can't happen if our
business is faltering because of its own creaky wheels.
Since 9/11, the
engine of travel has been powerful enough to overcome many sources
of friction. But given the economic uncertainties and complexities
that loom for the next year, this engine may well need a tune-up,
an oil change and a dose of the simplicity that the digital age was
supposed to bring.
All of that, plus
prosperity and world peace, would be our wish for the new