Nobody in this business likes to see an agent-friendly business go away, especially on the Web, but that is apparently the sad truth for the many fans and users of eGulliver.com.

The heart of the operation was a lead-generation and referral service designed to link would-be travelers with agents having specialized expertise in particular destinations or modes. Given that most Web sites aren't conducive to complex trip-planning, the idea sounded too good not to try -- especially since the perennial problem of finding good new clients, for many agents, was exacerbated by the arrival of the Internet in the first place.

The jury is still out on the validity of the concept, and not just because some other sites are trying to do similar things during a dot-com meltdown.

We're all still learning what the Web can and cannot do for (or to) the travel agent community. The sale of travel is a huge share of Internet e-commerce, but the potential of the Internet as a business tool extends far beyond the basics of making reservations. After the dot-com dust clears, the good ideas that failed will have to be tried again -- starting with this one.

Trivial pursuit?

In the developed world, you don't often see presidents and prime ministers hawking their destinations to travel agents and to trade journalists. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair did exactly that last week, as a VIP entourage of U.S. travel industry people got a firsthand look at the country and countryside where hoof-and-mouth disease is threatening to scare away American tourists.

And, yes, the agenda included an audience with the PM. If you need a reminder that tourism is not a trivial business, this should do.

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