The concern about rebating among some of the top cruise lines is being welcomed by many travel sellers. Theres talk of integrity, pricing stability, a level playing field. It is said that the cruise lines are acting to protect and strengthen the distribution system.

The cruise lines are also making it very clear that they are not, in so many words, prohibiting rebating. Rather, they are promising to reduce their level of compensation and/or support for distributors who advertise discounted, nonpublished or noncontracted rates. The unspoken assumption is that, to the extent rebating and discounting continue, it should happen quietly.

Tauck World Discovery has been following a similar policy, evidently with some success.

Weve been hearing so many good things about these initiatives that we decided to ask our Evil Twin (E.T.) if theres a downside to all this. He thinks there might be.

First of all, on a theoretical plane, he observes that anything that inhibits vigorous price competition is bad for consumers. Furthermore, E.T. said its a short step from discouraging the advertising of discounts to prohibiting such advertising, and from there to prohibiting discounting altogether.

Although travel suppliers have the right to stipulate the marketing practices of their agents, even to the point of price maintenance, E.T. feels that too much stipulation can lead to stagnation and stifle what is supposed to be a dynamic sales force. E.T. recalls that, long before the commission caps, the airlines were the supplier group agents most loved to hate, largely because the airlines kept telling them what to do and what not to do.

Fortunately, there are no signs that the latest moves by the cruise lines have put the distribution system on that slippery slope, so we told E.T. to take a hike -- but to leave his cell phone number just in case.

A lesson learned?

To the applause of a grateful travel industry, President Bush has signed H.R. 4417, a law that gives the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program another year to comply with a U.S. requirement that they issue passports containing biometric identifiers, such as a fingerprint.

The Visa Waiver Program allows U.S. citizens to enter those countries without a visa, and vice-versa. Congress decided to make biometric passports a prerequisite for participation beginning this October, but wisely passed a second bill to extend the deadline after the travel industry pointed out that international travel could dry up because so few countries can meet the deadline.

Now that we have this breathing room, we are emboldened to wonder why the October deadline was ever written into law in the first place. 

It should be possible for Congress to give the executive branch a mandate without committing 27 sovereign nations to an unrealistic deadline. Considering all the work that our government should do, we believe far too much time, energy and anxiety was wasted on the making and correcting of this mistake.

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