The agreement by the California Division of Tourism to remove itself from a lodging reservations operation in competition with agencies is a reasonable one that will broaden choices for consumers looking for a hotel room in the state.

The compromise is testimony to those who have worked hard to resolve the flap that began months ago when the division said it was contracting with two private res services to convert inquiries on its national toll-free hot line and Web site into bookings.

Under the old plan, the state would have received commissions from the two res centers, Bass Tickets and WorldRes, in exchange for bookings -- in effect competing with agencies. That proposal was suspended earlier this year after protests from the California Coalition of Travel Organizations (CCTO).

The res center now will be operated by a private industry partnership rather than by the Division of Tourism. The partners will be the California Travel Industry Association, the California Hotel and Motel Association and the two res centers. No commissions will be paid to the state.

Consumers who call the state's 800 number will be given the choice of connecting to a Bass res agent or a yet-to-be determined travel agent referral service. Agents also will be offered the opportunity to list their agencies on WorldRes' site.

The CCTO still doesn't like the plan, developed in part by ARTA, because it will give Bass, which is the fulfillment house for tourism promotional materials, the opportunity to talk to the caller first.

A travel agency advisory council will seek to develop links and telephone referrals. Perhaps reports on Web hits and phone calls could help ensure the fairness and efficacy of the agreement.

The compromise gives agents an opportunity to boost their hotel bookings. It stands to make agents more aware of promoting hotels and of the prospects of doing more business within their own state.

Nothing prevents agents from trying to capture that business in the first place. They are free to promote their knowledge of, and ability to book, the state's hotels and attractions.

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