hose who doubt the legitimacy of the work-at-home model for retail travel have some new facts to contend with, as two industry giants, American Express and Carlson, have now embraced the concept.

As we report in our news pages, Carlson Travel Franchise Group is rolling out a new program called SeaMaster Cruises, specifically for the cruise-only, work-at-home segment. A week earlier, we reported that American Express enrolled the host agency of the Cruise Planners franchise group as a representative agency.

For better or worse, the industry giants are smack in the middle of the work-at-home retail travel game.

In rolling out the new program, Roger Block, who heads Carlson's franchising operation, said that "over 25% of all legitimate sellers of travel" are working from home. This is a startling statistic at first blush, until you remember that many work-at-home agents report moderate sales. Cruise Planners, for example, comprises some 400 entities with a combined volume of $60 million. That's an impressive chunk of business, but it averages a modest $150,000 per year per member.

Compared with what's expected of a travel counselor in a brick-and-mortar agency these days, that is not a lot.

But the attraction for giants like American Express and Carlson is not the $150,000; it's the aggregated volume that hundreds or thousands of such travel sellers can produce. As Block put it in his published statement, "We will not cede this burgeoning segment of our industry to anyone else." Fighting words.

This level of attention from the industry titans may or may not be a good thing for home-based travel sellers, but it is a bit of a surprise.

According to the fortune tellers, the bloody battles in leisure travel this year were not supposed to be about kitchen tables and basement offices, but about the Internet, where brick-and-mortar giants such as American Express and Carlson were seen as losing ground to the dot-coms. That battle, it seems, has yet to be joined.

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A simple matter

t is gratifying to see two members of the president's cabinet testifying on Capitol Hill on a matter of importance to the travel industry. In a recent appearance

before the House Judiciary Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge both urged the committee to delay a security directive that could disrupt the Visa Waiver Program.

As part of the war on terrorism, Congress amended the program to require participating countries to begin issuing a new type of passport with biometric identification by Oct. 26. As things now stand, if they don't comply, their citizens will need visas to come here, and we'll probably need visas to go there.

Powell said no country is ready. Ridge said the U.S. is not ready to scan such passports, even if they existed. They concluded that the deadline has to be moved.

It should be a simple matter for Congress to reach the same conclusion. We hope it wastes no time in doing so.

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