It's not our intention to beat a dead horse -- and an "iron" one to boot -- but Marriott's recent move to launch a $2 million program designed to sharpen agents' hotel-selling techniques makes Amtrak's abrupt decision to chop commissions on point-to-point tickets look sick.

While Amtrak's "remedial" surgery amounted to cutting off agents at the knees, Marriott's remedy for enhancing the relationship between the hospitality industry and the trade is the kind of preventative medicine that goes down easy.

According to Marriott, which previewed the program at the ASTA World Travel Congress, surveys indicate some disquieting numbers: Only 11% of an agent's revenue derives from hotels, and only 25% of hotels' revenue is attributable to agents -- this despite a finding that 65% of the industry's guests seek out retailers for advice on lodgings.

It is Marriott's contention that the way to get those revenue figures pointing in the right direction is by further educating agents in the art and science of selling hotels -- all hotels, not just its own. To this end, the company will distribute -- for free -- training workbooks through its Web site, the CRSs and its reservations centers.

Among other things, the courses will focus on showing agents how to conduct a sale by qualifying a customer. To gain certification, participants must achieve a satisfactory score on a 25-question test included on a computer disk that comes with the workbook.

To be sure, Marriott will not reward "certified" agents with an enhanced commission rate on sales. The hotel company, instead, believes that the payoff to the trade will come when effective sales training translates into increased bookings and, in turn, greater aggregate commission earnings.

We applaud Marriott's initiative.

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