A few years ago, one of the big computer magazines did a piece on how the Internet is changing our lives. When it came to the on-line revolution in do-it-yourself travel, it bluntly declared, "Your travel agent is toast."

Travel Weekly's biennial survey of the U.S. travel agent industry hits the street today, and it shows that all that toast out there managed to increase its travel sales by 13% to $143 billion between 1997 and 1999. Toast, apparently, can still move product.

Toast increased its leisure sales by 22% to $78.5 million, or 55% of the total, while reducing its reliance on air sales. Cruise sales by toast increased 20%.

Toast is adaptable. Most toast imposes service fees on leisure and business clients, something unheard of only a few short loaves ago.

Toast is wired. Virtually all toast uses the Internet to make bookings, gather information and communicate with clients.

Toast is no dummy. Almost no toast regularly pays rebates to business travelers anymore.

Toast understands the risks of independence and the rewards of solidarity: most toast belong to a consortium or association.

Most toast was profitable in 1999. Not so much as in 1997, but, hey, the industry is changing.

Toast, however, is durable. The average piece of toast has been in the business 20 years, 14 years under current ownership.

And one of the Web sites that was going to turn you into toast was acquired by a travel agency that's been in the same family for 108 years.

Unlike the computer magazine, this newspaper is staking its future on the future of the U.S. retail travel industry, and our assessment is based in part on 30 years of research, which culminates in the special issue you receive today.

Take it home and read it over breakfast, with toast and a little jam.

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