The opening of direct reservations centers by tax-supported enterprises to accept bookings over toll-free numbers or Web sites is a trend that rightly concerns many agents.

Whether it be Sanibel Island's nonprofit Chamber of Commerce opening a for-profit unit or the California tourism entity's proposed deal with a res call center, the centers stand to siphon off potential business from taxpaying agents.

Although the operations may not be threats today, there is the possibility they could develop into full-scale agencies -- and take all bookings once a traveler has dialed the destination or visited its Web site.

We'd like to think that customers would turn to their own local agents first. No doubt many will. But agents ideally need not support a tax-supported enterprise that diverts bookings, however few, from them.


The California Coalition of Travel Organizations and angry agents have all but squelched the state's proposed program.

If it is rejected, the state's hotel and motel association could step in and set up the call center, while working with World Res, a company that would operate its Web site. That's a fair arrangement.

ARTA president John Hawks has advanced a compromise to eliminate the elements of unfair competition inherent in the program and make the hotel and motel association link agent-friendly.

It would give consumers visiting the state's site or calling a toll-free number the option to view a list of travel agencies in California that could book them. Agents calling in or visiting the site would receive a list of commissionable properties, and the res center automatically would deliver an agency's IATA number to the property when a booking is made.

An agent-hotel group task force would oversee the program.

Hotels could benefit from the lower fees that would ensue by diverting bookings from airline CRSs.

The proposal for the hotel-motel association could send agents new business and serve as a model for other states that want to work with a private association to lock in incoming calls.

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