Observing NCL America's downsizing in Hawaii, it strikes us that having an American-crewed vessel should not be the punishment that it has turned out to be.

When Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Inouye engineered the exemption that allowed NCL into this market in 2003, we said we would have preferred a broader relaxation of U.S. maritime regulations to create opportunities for all cruise lines at all U.S. ports.

We continue to believe that a broad review of the rules about U.S.-flag cruising is in order.

For example, U.S. ships must be built in the U.S. and must be staffed with a crew of U.S. citizens, which is precisely why there is virtually no U.S. passenger fleet and no U.S. labor pool. This rule benefits no one.

If it takes a mix of American- and foreign-built ships and American and foreign waiters and American and foreign cabin stewards to make cruising work in Hawaii or in other domestic markets, then that's what the government should allow.

Amateur night, after night ...

Is it a coincidence that the Web's fascination with user- generated content has coincided with the rise of reality TV and the "American Idol" craze?

We don't think so. We can't seem to lay our hands on our sociology credentials at the moment, so you'll just have to trust us on this, but we think these trends have common roots. Our evil twin might call it something like "consumers drunk on empowerment" or "amateurs gone wild." We'll be more discreet and call it a hyper-drive for fulfillment, perhaps with a dash of the baby boomers' legendary distrust of authority and "experts."

Whatever it is, it has infected thousands of people, inducing them to sing ridiculously on network TV; to pontificate about books, movies, hotels and travel experiences on various Web sites; to lose tens of thousands of dollars on camera by publicly botching home renovations; to chronicle the most trivial aspects of their lives in the blogosphere.

On eBay, anybody can be an entrepreneur. In Wikipedia, anybody can be an expert. On YouTube, anybody can be a video editor.

When every aspect of our mass culture, from Home Depot to the Food Network, is pounding home the message that "you can do this," it's tough to be an expert service provider such as a travel agent, stock broker or realtor. Who's next, accountants?

In a few years, will there be a book on the best-seller list by a noted social commentator called "The Death of Expertise?"

We would not be surprised. 

Earth Day

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on the travel industry's environmental record and, what may be even more important, the public's perception of it.

On this score, we have some bad news. According to a recent survey sponsored by Orbitz, about half of the American traveling public believes the U.S. tourism industry is not environmentally friendly.

Even if they're wrong, the travel industry could still have a serious PR problem to deal with. It's simply bad for business if half your market thinks you're hurting the planet.  

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