We remain optimistic that the specter of government-sponsored bypass at the heart of two controversial reservations systems -- one proposed and one up and running -- will not long threaten the mutually rewarding relationship that exists between destinations eager to welcome visitors and the wholesalers and retailers intent on delivering them.

In the most recent instance of government incursion into the free market, Irish tourism interests sealed a deal with a private company to offer a tour operator-booking operation designed to capture the business of U.S. consumers expressing interest in the destination through toll-free phone numbers or on the Net. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Tour Operators Association and ASTA raised objections to the project, which would have amounted to the establishment of a government monopoly. Fortunately, the tourism officials backed off the plan -- at least until next spring.

We expect that this is one spring that will never be sprung, considering a conciliatory statement by the Irish Tourist Board that it has "been working with ... concerned tour operators to address their concerns." We applaud the board's intention to rethink the plan. Alienating agents and operators does not strike us as a clever way to promote tourism.

Closer to home, California's controversial hotel reservations program is humming -- without the agent referral system it had promised the trade.

ARTA, instrumental in winning the commitment, has put the demand for an agent link on the "back burner," and the California Coalition of Travel Organizations says it will not help create such a system. The state maintains that it wants agent input "on how the lead or referral system will be done."

With a new administration about to take over the reins of government, it is time for the trade to lend a hand and invite California to honor its commitment.

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