With the busy holiday travel season upon us, agents might understandably have passed over recent developments in the nation's capital that could have a telling impact on the way retailers do business in the future.

For starters, a law long on the wish list of financial institutions was enacted that will, in effect, allow national banks -- almost as an afterthought -- to own travel agencies and set up shop at neighborhood branches.

The trade fought off this kind of thing years ago but largely sat on its hands this time round.

There is some question whether banks really want to sell travel inasmuch as most branches that we frequent appear hell-bent on reducing flesh-and-blood staffers by replacing them with ATMs and Net-based virtual tellers.

Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to envision a scenario in which banks will push travel on their Web sites, a handy nexus of money, privileged financial data and opportunity that could prove enticing to their customers.

We are not happy with this prospect. If there is anything the trade does not need it is more competition.

On another front, an FAA authorization bill embodying airline competition provisions continued to languish in conference committee as Congress adjourned Nov. 19.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), who has been strangely silent on the competition issue now that his presidential campaign is in high gear, expressed his regrets about the inaction. Early on, the trade had been led to expect more forceful leadership from McCain on the issue than he has shown. It is clear now that agents and consumers will have to look elsewhere for support.

On a positive note, the General Services Administration will allow firms competing in the civilian government market to charge fees for their services. The GSA's new pricing approach for new contracts is considered a victory for the Society of Travel Agents in Government. We congratulate the group.

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