You don't need to be told how important the travel industry is. You work in it. It's your livelihood. But what about everybody else?

Too many of them are still in the dark, and the industry needs to place a greater priority on their enlightenment.

Readers who flipped through our 50th anniversary issue a fortnight ago might have paused over the reproduction of banner headlines from 1967 and 1968, when the government sought to discourage foreign travel as a way to improve the balance of payments.

A few years later, when the first fuel crisis hit in 1973, came the dire headline "Industry girds for fuel crisis." This time there was talk of curbs on "nonessential" uses of energy, including "unnecessary travel."

In both cases the travel industry had to get organized,  knock on doors in Washington and get the message across that travel and tourism is a business --  a big one. 

Fast forward a few decades to a sunny morning in Washington last week, and we find the president of the Travel Industry Association, Roger Dow, addressing members of the U.S. House of Representatives and reminding them that this business sector accounts for $1.6 trillion in economic activity, or nearly 3% of U.S. GDP.

It's the same message, but with bigger numbers, that his predecessors have been delivering for decades.

To its credit, the TIA can now justly claim that it has more friends in Congress than ever, but those friends need help.

As we report in our news pages today, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, says he still has a "hard time" persuading business and political leaders in his district to think of tourism as an engine of economic development.

His co-chair, Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), whose district includes Las Vegas, also understands the power of travel, but he complains that its political power ought to be far greater than it is.

When the industry hears that from its allies in Congress, it ought to sit up and listen.

Farr, Porter and Dow have all said that they're working against silos and stovepipes, the common metaphor for mental compartmentalization. In this way of thinking, airline problems are airline problems, hotel problems are hotel problems, and they're different from Amtrak's problems, the concerns of destinations, the issues facing the motorcoach industry, or wholesalers or retailers.

The TIA came into being in part because that kind of thinking was getting in the way.

Evidently it still is.

Togetherness 

If you want the merger of Delta and Northwest to succeed, you can take some hope from the news that the pilots for both airlines have tentatively agreed on a procedure to merge their seniority lists.

We've had lots of airline mergers that didn't turn out so good, but we've never had one that began with an integrated pilot work force on day one. This could lead to huge efficiencies.

If you believe, as we do, that mergers have to be in the tool kit for airlines seeking to claw their way to daylight, then the pilots of these two airlines deserve some applause for helping to make the option feasible.

As to whether this merger is a good idea or not, we sill don't know, but this agreement makes it a better idea than it was before. 

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