ASTA members gathered in Los Angeles for their annual convention at a time of increasing uncertainty--and in the immediate wake of another commission cut, this time by Amtrak.

We don't have a crystal ball here, but it is a safe bet the trade should fear two threats. The first is the possibility of further supplier commission cuts. The second is the economic turmoil that is crippling economies overseas and producing rock 'n' roll financial markets at home.

Newsweek's cover story last week carried the very pointed headline "The Crash of '99?" A rocky economy could be the greater threat. In good times, commission cuts have no link to clients' wish or need to travel, their willingness to buy up when encouraged or even their acceptance of service fees. But what happens when those same prospects are worried about their own incomes?

Simultaneously with these grim concerns, the Society is at a turning point of sorts: Dick Knodt, executive vice president, has moved on. His shoes will be hard to fill.

However, the search committee would be wise to think in terms of a successor, not a replacement. That may seem a fine distinction, but it is key. It is appropriate to rethink the job description because each era calls for its own brand of leadership.

There is nothing sacred now--if there ever was--in finding someone with travel industry experience.The greater needs are a basic understanding of economics and the forces that shape and change the methods of travel distribution; the vision to translate that into meaningful leadership for the trade, and a generous sprinkling of optimism about agents' ability to control their own fate.

We wish ASTA luck in finding such a person.

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