The downside of democracy is that sometimes the majority gets it wrong. It happened in Alaska last year when voters adopted a ballot initiative designed, it would seem, to show the cruise lines who's boss.

The end result was a bad law that requires, among other things, the disclosure of the financial arrangements between the cruise lines and local shore excursion operators.

A brigade of those operators are now in a state court in Sitka seeking to stop the law from taking effect, on the grounds that they shouldn't be required to disclose this proprietary and competitively sensitive information.

At the same time, several elected legislators are busy in Juneau trying to get passage of remedial legislation.

We hope both efforts succeed. A judicial order and a new law from the legislature might be just enough of a double smack-down to make Alaska citizens come to their senses about the cruise business.

We think it's good for Alaska and good for the travel industry that the citizens of the Great Land care enough about their community and the environment to hold cruise lines and other travel companies to high standards.

On last year's ballot, however, they just flat-out got it wrong.


Anybody who is interested in tracking the fortunes brick-and-mortar travel agencies should take note of ASTA's latest Agency Profile, featured in our By the Numbers report today ["ASTA profile: Members are older, profitable"].

It contains encouraging news for those who fear that travel agencies are disappearing. Nearly half the travel agencies participating in the survey were established before 1980. As small businesses go, 27 years (and counting) isn't a bad life span.

Most are profitable, but not wildly so, for they are small. But that's not the number that concerns us today.

Our concern for the moment is that their owner-managers aren't getting any younger.

From 2004 to 2006, the percentage of owner-managers above the age of 45 increased from 85.8% of the total to 88.4%. Put another way, those between the ages of 25 and 44 now make up 11.7% of the total, down from 13.9% two years ago.

Of course, an age pyramid for a sample of ASTA members isn't rock-solid evidence, but it's another reminder that this is an industry dominated by boomers, and boomers are moving on. What will the echo be like?

'I don't know'

We don't have an official Quote of the Week contest around here, but if we had to pick some finalists this week, Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain would be among them.

Fain admits in our In the Hot Seat interview that cruise lines sometimes just don't know why bookings seem to get hot and then cool down. Few market analysts or corporate executives ever admit that they don't know something, but we suspect it happens from time to time.

In fact, we suspect they sometimes make things up to reassure people that they're in the loop or in control. The realists among us appreciate Fain's refreshing reminder that business imitates life and comes with its share of surprises and unsolved mysteries.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI