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Travel ads miss two audiences

"Mrs. Jerome Hines and daughter Maggie, 3, of Chicago, Ill." "Mrs. Richard Hathaway, Atlanta, with son Ian, 5, at the Beach Club."

"Mrs. James A. Bair, Potomac, Md., and instructor Dickie Anderson." In the photos accompanying these captions, the women named seemed to be enjoying their holidays at The Cloister, on Georgia's Sea Island. But it struck me as old-fashioned that these married women had no first names; instead, each woman was portrayed as only some man's wife.

Then I remembered the advertising brochures from Jamaica: Every visitor was white; the few black faces shown always seemed to be smiling over a platter of tropical drinks.

Advertising for other popular elements of travel _ from package tours to commercial-trade hotels _ generally features this domination of whites and white males.

Is this what the world is like? Even at the ritziest of resorts, don't married women deserve their own identities? I saw a few black people who were guests at some of Jamaica's all-inclusive resorts, but I have yet to see blacks portrayed as guests in their slick brochures _ or almost anyone else's.

Similarly, while hotels catering to the commercial traveler tout concern for women guests traveling alone, the ads seldom picture women as anything other than ornaments on some dapper fellow's arm.

Probably the one facet of travel advertising closest to the truth is in the portrayal of seniors. These models all look ecstatic _ probably because they appear to be perfectly coiffed, handsomely dressed, in fine health and with no tell-tale liver spots.

In marketing, it only makes sense that businesses seeking a demographic segment emphasize typical customers. The cruise industry does this best: Ships catering to various groups feature in their ads just seniors, young singles and couples, or parents and children.

But the world is full of colors, not just white, and women aren't merely people waiting to be wives. When will the travel industry show these realities?

About that bus tour

Last month I wrote about a package tour I took from Savannah to Charleston. I noted several problems, with this specific tour and with such package trips in general. I also wrote on how to make wise choices from tour operators' catalogs.

Because of my criticism, I expected a larger-than-usual response, from tour veterans, travel agents and tour operators. Six of my 23 tour-bus colleagues had requested copies of the article, and I expected they might not agree with all my qualms. To date:

Two readers have told me they had great experiences with other tour companies and suggested I try them.

The travel agent I book through told me it was about time some of these problems were reported.

One tour operator called to say the story was too negative.

The corporate general manager of the tour company sent a polite letter "appreciating my appraisals and critical commentsThe great majority of your fellow tour members have rated the tour very good to excellent. "

The four tourgoers who have responded to me personally have agreed with most of the specific complaints.

All of which is a reminder that the people sitting next to us view the same experience with a whole world of different perceptions.

Wrong number?

I am a travel writer and a travel editor; I am not a travel agent _ though many readers ask me for precisely the sort of help a good agent is willing to provide. But last week brought a new sort of inquiry:

A St. Petersburg resident called to ask whether I had ever been to Costa Rica (my report in January covered most of three pages) and then, what did I think of the investment possibilities there.

I answered that I didn't consider such matters during my trips. His response was sarcastic, and he hung up on me.

For other folks seeking similar advice beyond the basics of why do I want to go there and how do I do it: I don't have the expertise to help you. That's not my job.