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.