The National Business Travel Association made us sit up and take notice the other day when it asked the Bush administration to begin a dialogue with the travel industry as it draws up contingency plans for a possible avian flu pandemic.

In outlining his ambitious plan to prepare for an avian flu epidemic, President Bush called for the development of emergency plans at the federal, state and local level. He also called for private sector involvement.

NBTA, in an unexpected response, proposed a travel industry working group that would help educate travelers and minimize the negative economic impact.

Given the global reaction -- or overreaction -- to the SARS outbreak in Asia in 2003, its not hard to imagine that even the appearance of a serious global pandemic of avian flu could give rise to panic, quarantines and travel restrictions.

That alone is reason enough for the travel industry to have an open channel of communication with the federal and local officials who would be coordinating the governments response.

Of course, we could be getting ahead of ourselves. Our preferred scenario, obviously, is for this whole avian flu scare to blow over, which could happen.

And its by no means certain that an outbreak of avian flu, if it happens, will be as devastating as the great influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, which is everybodys worst nightmare. In a pandemic of those proportions, thousands of travel and other businesses may have no choice but to hunker down and wait it out.

NBTA jumped out in front of this issue, surprising some industry groups, but garnering endorsements from the Travel Industry Association and others.

We would urge any organization thats on the fence to support the NBTA initiative. The travel and tourism industry shouldnt forego any opportunity to sit down with the feds and talk about planning for the future, even on a topic as grim as this.

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For more details on this article, see "NBTA proposes initiative to combat avian flu outbreak."


Pick a round number

Proudly, the travel industry reported recently that it supports 7.3 million jobs, accounting for 5.6% of the nations nonfarm employment, and generating expenditures on transportation, lodging, food and other items of about $600 billion -- in round numbers.

These big round numbers were included in a joint report by the Travel Industry Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The report is one in a series of statistical tabulations designed to show the contribution of travel and tourism to the national economy and the economies of the states. It will be used by planners, politicians, lobbyists, and others for months.

For most of us, however, it will be largely forgotten before the 2006 edition comes out.

If you had to pick one number or one fact to remember from this mountain of data, you might be hard-pressed to pick something that is truly memorable, truly important, truly cool enough to drop into the middle of a sagging conversation. The grand sum of $600 billion might seem like a good one, but you might consider this: that $600 billion in retail expenditures generates $100 billion in federal, state and local taxes -- in round numbers.

Thats a bit over 16% and -- in round numbers -about half of it is federal.

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