he environmental movement has been right all along. It is clear to us now that pollution from cruise ships and tourism in general has poisoned the air and waters of Alaska to such an extent that the state's elected officials are exhibiting signs of dementia.

How else to explain Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to balance the state budget in 2004 by requiring visitors to buy a $15 "wildlife conservation pass" for the privilege of gawking at eagles?

The fee for the puffin pass would be collected by cruise lines and tour operators, and a portion of the proceeds would be used for conservation programs.

According to an aide to Murkowski, hunters and fishermen in Alaska would not pay the fee because they already contribute to conservation when they buy hunting and fishing licenses. Camera-toting tourists, however, are deemed to be "nonconsumptive users of wildlife," who now are being asked to shoulder part of the burden.

No word yet on the status of "nonconsumptive users of scenery."

Before you ask, "What are they putting in the water up there?" be advised that it's affecting the statehouse as well as the governor's mansion.

House Bill No. 207, introduced by Rep. Carl Gatto, would impose a $100 excise tax on anyone traveling "in the marine waters of the state" in a commercial passenger vessel. A hundred bucks!

Passengers on the Alaska Marine Highway, the state-run ferry system, would be exempt.

We love Alaska, and all things Alaskan, but we hate to see it spoiled by myopic politicians who can't keep their hands out of the pockets of fellow Americans who just want to experience the great land for a few days, savor some salmon and go home with their home movies, snapshots and memories.

Is that so much to ask?

• • •

Selling down

t is becoming increasingly clear to observers of the airline and hotel industries that Internet distribution is more complicated than simply turning on the server and sitting back to count one's blessings.

As our Page 1 story in the March 31 issue of Travel Weekly suggests, one has to manage the process, or it ends up managing you.

Agents long have wondered when airline executives would catch on to the absurdity of giving up $100 in revenue to save $10 in costs.

Hoteliers claim to be aware of that trap, but they also seem determined to beat the discounters at their own game, even as they complain of declining yields.

Someday, travel suppliers may figure out a way to harness the Internet to increase their yields.

Until then, it looks like travel agents will remain the only distribution channel that can sell up -- if given the opportunity to do so.

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Look for additional details on this article in the March 31 issue of Travel Weekly.

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