week ago in this space we observed that the hotel business may be entering another phase of proliferating new brands and niches. We also cited a recent commentary on the cruise industry suggesting that cruise lines should work harder to differentiate their brands and their ships from each other because, for some consumers, "it's homogenous out there."

These two trends, if they are trends, just collided.

Four Seasons, a hotel company, may be putting its brand on ships that would be marketed as floating residences.

The idea of the floating condominium is not new, of course. Twenty years ago an entrepreneur thought (wrongly, as it turned out) that the concept would bring the SS United States back to life. More recently, the idea was successfully put to practice with the World of Residensea.

The World proved that the residential model can work for ships, and Disney and Radisson both proved that a land-based hospitality brand can successfully put out to sea, so why should we expect it to end there?

People in the cruise business are fond of saying it's still a young business, that the percentage of people who have ever cruised is still in the teens. They're also fond of saying that while they compete with each other, their biggest competitors are the operators of land-based vacations and resorts.

Against that background, one wonders why hoteliers looking for new opportunities have not gone to sea in greater numbers. Perhaps it's still early in the game.

• • •

Produce or perish?

he new president of Funjet Vacations, Ray Snisky, wants to focus his marketing resources on what he called "an elite collection of the most forward-thinking, productive agencies in the business." As reported in our news pages today, this means the operator's top-selling agencies and those who are not in the top tier but who are committed to growing their market share.

Snisky says, "The folks who want to work closely with us are the ones we want to work with."

This seems like a sound and reasonable business strategy and Mark Travel officials are correct to point out that it is not a revolutionary departure. It is not unlike the strategy being pursued by other top vacation companies such as Pleasant or Classic -- or Carnival.

But in our conversations with Mark Travel about the new regime at Funjet, what we find most telling is the absence of any mention of "consortia" or "preferred relationships."

Increasingly, suppliers are making it known to their agents that what matters most is delivering the business, not belonging to this or that group.

We don't think for a moment that the consortium model has outlived its usefulness for retailers or its value to suppliers, but it should be clear to both sides now what will happen if one is forced to choose between a partner that performs and one that merely "belongs."

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