Before we move much further into July, we'd like to backtrack briefly. We still have a short stack of comments and observations triggered by events that unfolded in June that have yet to find their way into this space.

Key among these worthy events is the partnership of Bill Marriott and Ian Schrager.  At first glance, it seemed an unlikely partnership, pairing a somewhat conservative corporation with a trend-setting iconoclast.

But it didn't take long to see that the partnership made great sense. In fact, it made so much sense that we should have seen it coming.

Marriott can be counted on to do the unexpected when it makes great business sense, like when it acquired the lofty Ritz-Carlton brand or when it moved into the extended-stay segment by buying that segment's pioneering lead brand, Residence Inn.

If Marriott International's septuagenarian CEO can start a blog and move his company into a partnership with Nickelodeon to build water park resorts, then a deal with Ian Schrager shouldn't surprise us.

Likewise, If Marriott International is going to move into the boutique niche, how better to do it than to team up with the guy who virtually invented the concept?

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We learned from our June 18 cover story ["Following their scripts, agents mull 'going GUI' "] that despite tremendous changes in travel technology in recent years, the decades-old green screen lives on among travel agents. If the old command line interface still has some advantages over point-and-click screens, we suspect it has more to do with the imperfections of the newer technology than with any inherent advantage of the old technology.

A menu-driven interface is only as good as the menu, and a point-and-click interface is only as good as the text and pictures it points to. If it takes you too long to figure out what the smiley face means, then the smiley face is not doing its job.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview about the iPhone, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said most people hate their cell phones. As Jobs explained it, the technology is wonderful, but most people can't figure out the controls and the commands and can't remember them long enough to make use of all the features.

That could be part of the problem with GDS efforts to adopt graphical user interfaces. 

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Finally, belated kudos to ASTA and its Corporate Advisory Council for obtaining a "technical correction" to the Texas tax code that was requiring some travel agents to pay taxes on other people's money.

Texas levies a gross receipts tax on top-line revenue, and it takes that revenue figure from a company's Internal Revenue Service forms. It turns out that some Texas agents were reporting only their commissions, fees and merchant mark-ups as top-line revenue, while others were reporting gross sales and then deducting most of that amount as funds were sent on to suppliers.

Agents in that second group were taking a serious hit from the Texas tax man. 

ASTA hired a Texas attorney to address the issue and make the case that "flow-through funds" should be exempt from the tax.

This is a great example of what a trade association can do to straighten out a government muddle. ASTA's boosters should remember it when they are asked, as they often are, "What good is ASTA?"  

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