ith transparent pricing, competition on the Web is sometimes called a "race to the bottom," as in the rock-bottom price. As the airlines were among the first to discover, it's not a race you necessarily want to win. Now it seems that some travel suppliers are looking for ways to opt out of the race altogether.

Responding to retailer demands for a "level playing field," Carnival a few months ago vowed not to give particular sales outlets better rates than others.

To wean the traveling public away from discount Web sites, hoteliers have begun offering rate guarantees.

Most recently, Marriott put the word out to consumers that they shouldn't expect to find lower rates than the published rates available through the company or through travel agents using traditional GDS technology.

Tauck World Discovery took a different approach, advising retailers, online and off, not to promote Tauck products at discount prices. Under Tauck's new policy for 2004, retailers can still offer discounts, up to a point, but they cannot promise a discounted price in advertising or promotional messages.

Now Oceania, a one-ship cruise line that's just getting its sea legs, has adopted a similar policy.

And why not? After a prolonged period of sluggish sales owing to the economy, terrorism, war, SARS and what-have-you, everybody in this business is looking for demand to catch up with supply so that prices can rise, so that margins can improve, so that profits will increase and growth resume. You hear it across the board from airlines, from hotels, from car rental firms and tour operators -- even from the most profitable cruise lines.

Of course, it's always a challenge to maintain "price integrity" in the unwieldy bazaar that our multichanneled distribution system has become. What makes it so critically important today is that for the past two years, too many people in this business have been preoccupied with cutting costs, cutting corners, cutting staff, cutting prices, racing to the bottom.

Maybe it's time for things, even prices, to be trending upward for a change.

• • •

Catching on?

gainst this backdrop, it's refreshing to hear from America West that it wants more travel agency business, and is willing to do something to garner it.

Imagine: A U.S. airline is actually investing in technology that will enable it to increase the amount of business it gets from travel agents.

Not only that, the airline is willing to compensate agents for taking the trouble to deliver business in a way that enables the airline to avoid the cost of the GDS.

As we report in our news pages today, America West intends to put these ideas into practice with a beta-test in February, having consulted with ASTA and with individual agents about how to do it right.

This is not a new idea, but it's a good one. It apparently works at AirTran and at a few other airlines.

It's nice to see a good idea catching on.

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