cattered throughout our news pages today and in recent weeks are bits and pieces of information about the health and well-being of the jigsaw puzzle we call "the travel industry."

The bigger airlines, the sick six, are bleeding red ink; two of them are in bankruptcy. More may follow. Smaller, low-cost carriers are in a growth mode.

The major cruise lines and big hotel companies were in a recovery mode in 2002, remained profitable and would be poised for growth if the future were not so uncertain.

Travel agencies are all over the map. Roughly a third are breaking even; just under a third are losing money; a bit more than a third are showing a profit.

There are reports that upscale travelers are undeterred, but that travelers, overall, are jittery. School groups are canceling trips to Washington.

Tour operators are rolling out products close to home, as cruise lines have already done.

Corporations have developed contingency plans; some of their experienced travelers are getting concerned about international travel. To keep their meetings and convention business, hotels are being flexible with cancellation policies.

The stock market isn't helping -- nor is the dollar.

Put it all together and you don't have a picture because so much depends on the missing pieces of the puzzle -- war and terrorism.

Some degree of uncertainty in life is normal, but travelers seem unaccustomed to prolonged uncertainty of this kind. During a terrorist alert, consumers will buy new cars and appliances, or put a new deck on the house, before they'll travel.

It is said that 9/11 gave a new meaning to "normal." If so, we hope that what we are experiencing now is not it.

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Reinventing ASTA

ome weeks ago in this space, we applauded the initiative of ASTA's leadership in developing a plan to restructure the board of directors and the chapters and to take a radical, new approach to the operation of the annual World Travel Congress.

Without passing judgment on the details, we continue to believe that ASTA deserves credit for aggressively meeting its financial and organizational challenges head-on.

But we note that some respected current and former ASTA officials now question the plan and the manner in which it was developed. They seek a delay to allow more time to examine other possible alternatives. They deserve credit for speaking out.

It soon will be up to ASTA's travel agent members to resolve this dispute by ballot. Our hope is for a high voter turnout and a decisive outcome that will enable ASTA to move on.

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