he notable events of the past week include a preferred-supplier agreement between the largest airline, American, and the largest agency consortium, Vacation.com.

A publicist for the consortium said the new deal means American "has taken a major step to re-embrace travel agents," a bit of spin that may overstate the case. Vacation.com is replacing a previous deal with Delta by making American its exclusive preferred airline among the majors. It intends to create what its president Dick Knodt calls "a focused promotion." American expects a little market share in return, and the consortium claims it can and will deliver some shift.

This is no hugs-and-kisses arrangement. In fact, it's better than that. It would be nice if American loved all agents and all agents loved all airlines, but in the business world we think it's even nicer when airlines and agents demonstrate that they understand what they can do for each other.

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Core values

he Travel Institute has invited the heads of various industry associations to a meeting in New York early next year to kick around a novel idea: The development of core standards for travel industry professionals.

Under the leadership of its president, David Preece, the institute is reinventing itself to become an educational resource for the entire travel industry, with continuing education and certification programs of all kinds. An industry consensus on certain fundamentals will make the task a lot easier for everyone.

The Travel Institute has its work cut out for it, but it's worthwhile work. Objective, professional standards and broadly recognized continuing education and certification programs won't fix everything that's broken, but they could bring considerable benefits to all segments of this industry.

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Surfers

ome months ago, we reported warnings that brick-and-mortar agents can no longer take their cruise and tour business for granted. The Big Web Sites, it was said, are going beyond simple air sales and will soon be taking big bites our of the more complicated leisure bookings that are the stock-in-trade of traditional agents.

Now we're hearing that the Big Web Sites are going after the business of agents who specialize in corporate travel management. Orbitz, it's been noted over and over, has already snared the McDonald's account.

Perhaps it's time for somebody to serve notice on the Big Web Sites that they can't take any of this business for granted, either. According to a recent report on the news wires, consumers who book travel on Big Web Sites tend to use them interchangeably, and don't have any brand loyalty to any particular site.

It was once said of corporate accounts that they love you on price and leave you on service. We imagine it's true of Web surfers, too.

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