Travel agents in the U.S. who think the commission cuts have hit them hard should consider the plight of their confreres in New Zealand.

Auckland, New Zealand.Industry consultant Bruce Tepper, who recently returned from New Zealand after giving a series of seminars, said agents there have suffered much more from pay cuts. For several years, they have lived with domestic commissions at 5%. But the big blow came last fall when the major airlines serving the "trans-Tasman" route between New Zealand and Australia cut their commissions from 9% to 5%. Tepper said the average New Zealand agent derives half of his or her sales from trans-Tasman airline tickets.

Then, this spring, the low-cost Air New Zealand subsidiary Freedom Air decided to stop paying commission entirely. The carrier said it favored agents' charging fees for their service. (Freedom Air also said travelers will have to start paying for snacks on board flights.)

Tepper said service fees in New Zealand are not an option but a necessity -- hence his invitation there, along with his partner, Robert Joselyn, the "service fee guru" of the trade in the U.S.

Mouse and sqvir'rel

Fox's morning show "Good Day New York" has been giving away trips to Universal Studios Escape in Florida. To enter the drawing, viewers had to send in a postcard.

One day earlier this month, a winner was pulled out of the "barrel": someone named Larry, from Queens. His postcard was from Disney.

This item rated PG-13

Photo of the candoms packaging.Insider spotted the first Candom at the swim-up bar. (No, it's not a misspelling.) The second was wrapped around a Red Stripe beer on a lounge chair at the beach. The third appeared during Happy Hour at the piano bar. We tracked the item to the resort's gift shop, where a neon-lettered sign above a stand-up display shrieked the suggestion "When Drinking at Random, Use a Candom!"

The sign worked. We pulled one of the colorful shrink-wrapped items from the rack. A Candom is a can cooler that rolls up, fits in a pocket but can be slipped on any soda or beer container to contain the droplets of moisture that inevitably mar a table surface or drip on clothing. Its slogan says it all: "Practice Safe Sips, Use a Candom."

The Austin, Texas-produced doodad is selling like ... well, like the real thing at couples-only resorts, according to gift shop managers. Unlike the real thing, a Candom can be reused. And one size fits all. ... We'll stop right here.

ThinAir

It had not occurred to us, prior to seeing Jim Glab's news item in a recent issue of Travel Weekly ("German firm plans airship jaunts"), that the recent tendency on the part of companies to run multiple proper names together -- witness PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example -- has really frightening implications when it comes to the German language.

Among European tongues, German is unrivaled in its insistence on stringing together long words in seemingly unpronounceable compounds. The 42-letter mouthful in the news story turns out to be straightforwardly descriptive: Transatlantische Luftschiffahrt-gesellschaft actually means Transatlantic Airship Travel Society.

This calls to mind Mark Twain's comment on the daunting length of German words and sentences: "When the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

Forget the Alamo

Pancho Villa's house.Leading our group of six on a tour of Pancho Villa's house in Chihuahua City, our guide, Armando, favored Insider with some choice moments from past sessions with norteamericano tourists.

"When we get to the photograph of Villa sitting next to Emiliano Zapata at a conference, someone usually remarks that Zapata 'looks nothing like Marlon Brando,' " Armando reported with a smile, alluding to the 1952 film "Viva Zapata!"

"And one lady, a schoolteacher from Florida, said Zapata must be a very popular figure here because she noticed so many shoe stores were named after him." (Zapateria means "shoe store.")

Armando remarked that our group was doing pretty well in the "smart question" category, but he spoke too soon.

In time, we came to the interior courtyard of Villa's hacienda, which houses one of the more gruesome museum exhibits in recent memory: the bullet-riddled Model-A Ford Villa was riding in when he was assassinated, in 1923. One of our group, a physician from California, stared at the car with a plainly perplexed look on his face. In time, he said to Armando, "Now, what role, exactly, did Villa play at the Alamo?"

Armando gently informed the doctor that the siege of the Alamo took place in 1836, some 40 years before Villa was born. "That explains it, then," the doctor said. "I didn't think there were any cars at the Alamo."

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