eports continue to come in from cruise lines, resorts, hotels and other suppliers that are easing their cancellation and refund policies, giving passengers a little extra time to make up their minds, cutting back on penalty provisions, getting a little more generous with refunds and credits.

Some tour operators made such changes right after the Sept. 11 attacks 18 months ago, and have kept them in place.

Travel suppliers are making these moves, of course, to reassure jittery travelers who don't like the idea of being far from home in times of trouble.

That's a good reason. But as we look over the new terms and conditions that some suppliers are adopting, it occurs to us that the relaxation of these restrictions is a good thing for consumers in any event, regardless of what's going on in the world.

Admittedly, nobody in the business likes dealing with cancellations, but would it be such a bad thing if kinder, gentler policies became the norm?

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Best practices

STA and Hyatt deserve a salute for coming up with a program for recognizing agents who have adopted new plans and procedures to improve their business. As described in our news pages today, the program was designed to ferret out some of the "best practices" employed by agents in categories such as marketing, human resources and technology.

Four agencies won top honors in the Best Travel Agent Practices Study, and their case histories are posted on ASTA's Web site.

All deserve congratulations, but we would single out Mike MacNair of MacNair Travel Management in Alexandria, Va., for offering a useful reminder to fellow agency owner/managers: Spend more time working on the business rather than in the business.

That may not be easy in today's demanding environment, but it sounds like a "best practice" worth remembering.

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Another reminder

peaking of useful reminders, Amtrak president David Gunn reminded Congress the other day that "federal leadership is necessary to address the future of passenger rail service in this country." If our government leaders have a plan for Amtrak, we're not sure what it is.

What we do know is that Amtrak still lacks a permanent financial arrangement that would enable the railroad to do much more than skimp through another year. Amtrak is on Capitol Hill seeking $1.8 billion for fiscal 2004 because, under the current appropriations law, it runs out of money again in seven months.

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