t was just four months ago that the World Health Organization issued its first carefully worded advisories to the travel community about the strange new disease from Asia. In a short time, SARS scared the hell out of business and leisure travelers all over the world, forcing the cancellation, postponement or diversion of millions of dollars worth of business for travel and travel-related companies. Even Kodak blamed an earnings decline, in part, on the reduced demand for film as people postponed trips to Asia.

SARS took the medical profession by surprise, and it certainly took the travel industry by surprise. We were unaccustomed to getting travel advisories from the WHO. That was a first.

But we are accustomed to dealing with a jittery public. Or we should be, by now.

Some "seasoned travelers" may scoff at the timidity of would-be tourists who steered clear of Calgary because it's in the same country as Toronto, but with a mystery disease such as SARS, who can be blamed for erring on the side of caution?

It's one thing for geographically challenged travelers to avoid Tanzania because of civil strife in Liberia. That's an error that travel counselors can correct with maps and facts. But when people are dying from a virus that nobody seems to know anything about, what's a travel seller to do but respect the client's comfort zone?

The increasingly familiar challenge to travel sellers today is to find a range of attractive, rewarding and financially remunerative travel products for every conceivable comfort zone.

With luck, SARS may be eradicated someday, but it may take more than luck to eradicate every specter on the horizon that gives travelers the jitters.

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ARTA's day in court

n this free country, the Association of Retail Travel Agents is free to vote "no" to the settlement proposed by Lufthansa in the Sarah Hall class-action suit. But we're a little disappointed that ARTA is taking such a belligerent attitude in demanding "a day in court" over airline commission cuts.

ARTA president John Hawks said, "We want somebody in a black robe to stand up and say the airlines screwed you." ARTA prides itself on a willingness to get confrontational when necessary, but in this case it seems to us that ARTA could aim a little higher than that.

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We'll always have Paris

e sent a reporter to France to find out what it's like, in this time of transatlantic tension, to be an American in Paris. His report appears in the July 14 issue. Among other things, he reports that Americans are being harder on the French than vice versa.

In other words, you don't have to be ashamed, nervous, insecure or defensive to be an American in Paris.

If you took France off your short list, maybe it's time to put it back.

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