One of the big news stories from the business world in recent weeks was the disclosure that Toys R Us, the big toy retailer, is falling so far below expectations that it might get out of the toy business altogether and focus on other kid stuff like baby clothes and baby furniture, where the margins and growth prospects are a little higher and the competition a little less intense.

Not so long ago, Toys R Us was king of the hill, the biggest toy retailer in the world. The company name said it all.

Then came low-cost competition in the form of Wal-Mart, which has displaced it as the biggest toy retailer in the world. A playful Wall Street Journal headline the other day put it this way: Toys were us?

There are probably several lessons here for people in the travel business, and one of them has to do with the general idea of making progress by letting go.

It cant be easy for a company with toys in its name to get out of the toy business. Its a hard choice to make and the company deserves credit for having the courage to consider it, just as many travel agents deserve credit for turning away from nonremunerative airline sales.

But the recent unpleasantness over Northwests shared GDS fee reminds us that there are still a lot of hard choices to be made across the spectrum of airline distribution, a lot of progress to be made and a lot of letting go to do. Up and down the distribution chain, too many people and institutions are clinging to too many legacy ideas and concepts that could all too easily drag them down.

Air travel is too important to be reliant on so many components that have legacy as part of their names. We shouldnt have legacy airlines with legacy labor contracts, legacy reservations systems based on legacy mainframes, legacy appointment systems for travel agents -- or legacy anything. Travel is a growth industry, but the engine that drives so much of it, aviation, is clinging to too many vestiges of its past.

Most mainstream travel agents have hitched their wagons to the GDS star, and for the most part, that business tool has served them well. But if youre a travel agent and your primary business tool is known in the data-processing industry as a legacy system, what does that say about the future?

If youre an airline like Northwest and you are so dependent upon a legacy system that you cant afford to be in it, and cant afford to do without it, how do you move forward?

At some awful and wrenching point in the history of tires, the factories making bias ply tires had to shut down, retool and start making radials. And the factories that made radios had to stop, shut down, retool, and start using transistors instead of tubes.

They did so because consumers didnt want to ride on legacy tires or listen to legacy radios.

Unfortunately, its not that simple in the airline distribution system, where some participants are trying to move on without letting go.

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