It's 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 and taxes.

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 year.

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