he next cable TV reality show, as we report in this issue, will depict captains of industry -- CEOs and senior vice presidents -- rolling up their sleeves, working the front lines and getting an appreciation for what their employees do all day.

It's a great concept, and we think The Learning Channel's viewers will be entertained. We also think the travel companies that participated will be better off. One improvement has already taken root at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. After CEO Jonathan Tisch did time as a bellboy there last summer, he ordered up lighter uniforms more appropriate to Miami's tropical climate.

Of course, this is not a new concept. Senior managers at various companies over the years have made a show of stepping up and pitching in to connect with their employees.

Two decades ago, People Express Airlines made it a company policy that senior executives rotate in and out of jobs like answering the phone and cleaning airplanes. More recently, JetBlue CEO David Neeleman has been seen slinging bags from time to time.

Overall, we think it's a fine idea for company executives to gain, or renew, an appreciation for the work of front-line employees. But the educational process shouldn't end there.

Travel sellers at all levels could help by reminding travelers to be respectful when being waited on, to factor in gratuities as part of the cost of travel and to remember that some of their most memorable and satisfying experiences will have come about because of the quiet and continuous efforts of people they rarely notice or never see.

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he Cruise Lines International Association is justifiably proud of its performance in 2003. Despite war, SARS and other impediments to travel, CLIA members accommodated a record 9.5 million passengers worldwide, an increase of 10.2% over 2002.

In the North American market, growth was a bit more modest, as the passenger count rose 6.9% and approached 8 million.

These are good numbers by any measure, and that's pretty much the end of the story -- except that we can't resist the temptation to add a footnote.

Despite the "close-to-home" syndrome, the increasing activity at secondary ports in the U.S. and very attractive pricing, cruising's growth in North America lagged behind the growth rate reported elsewhere.

One effect of this uneven growth rate is that the CLIA lines boarded 83% of their passengers in North America last year, down from 86.2% in 2002.

A trend?

As 2003 began, CLIA said the market could grow to 8.3 million North American passengers and 9.6 million worldwide. Who would have guessed at the time that the cruise lines would come closer to hitting the second number than the first?

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