One of the most important messages any industry can send to consumers and government regulators is that it does no harm, or not much harm.

We believe that the travel industry does far more good than harm, but it would be a stretch to say we do "no harm."

Like many other activities, travel and tourism have their negative side effects, among them pollution, congestion and noise. Tourism can contribute to the degradation of fragile environments and historical structures. Tourism can even give itself a bad name, as when tourists themselves are heard to mutter, "Let's get away from all these tourists."

The industry's better brains have been aware of these issues for a long time, and they have made progress in addressing them as individuals, through their companies and through nonprofit associations.

Even our most fuel-intensive component, the airline industry, has said through IATA that the airlines, under attack as stratospheric polluters, should embrace the goal of "zero emissions."

If the airlines can adopt that goal, as audacious and elusive as it seems, then surely the rest of us in travel ought to be able to commit ourselves to an equally ambitious goal. 

As we report in our cover story today, events in Barcelona last week may have finally given the global travel industry that opportunity, by producing a framework for developing globally recognized standards that would define what constitutes sustainable tourism.

This is too good an opportunity to pass up, and we urge the industry to support the project. As Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann reported in his dispatch from Barcelona, the real work begins now, as we determine how sustainable practices can be implemented, measured and certified and the results communicated.

There is, at best, a hazy consensus around the world as to what constitutes "five star," "first class" and "luxury." Though it's a bit confusing, we live with it.

But we don't have to live with five definitions of "green," four definitions of "nontoxic" and three definitions of "recycled." And we shouldn't.

Hosting

"Dear Sir: You owe us $6 million."

That's the sort of message that can ruin your day, as a Texas travel agency can surely testify. According to travel lawyer Alexander Anolik, such a message arrived at the doorstep of a Texas retailer recently in the form of a debit memo from American Airlines.

And the cause of it all was misplaced trust. The retailer hosted an independent contractor who turned out to be a little too independent and, from American's perspective, a perpetrator of fraudulent mileage transactions.

Your dictionary will tell you that a "host" is a person who extends hospitality or support. But the word also refers to those who are invaded and preyed upon by parasites, which seems to be what happened here.

ARC has advised agents countless times that under the agent reporting agreement, host agencies are absolutely responsible for their contractors.

The hosting model is a useful one; it can produce efficiencies and mutual benefits for host, contractor and client. But the host bears a disproportionate share of the risk, which requires a disproportionate dose of caution, and in a softening market, maybe an extra dose.

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