The nearly two years since the terrible events of September 11, 2001, have taken their toll on the business of travel, especially to Europe. Thousands of travel agents have left the business, the major U.S. airlines will probably never be the same, and, though behemoth Europe travel sellers Rail Europe and Auto Europe are still intact, they have taken some broadsides and live today with substantially lower revenues.

The biggest surprise to me, however, is the demise of the respected Consumer Reports Travel Letter. With a reported 50,000 subscribers it was the largest circulation travel newsletter in history. CRTL ceased publication with the January 2003 issue. One of the reasons experts give for its downfall is the vast amount of travel information now available at no cost on the Internet, specifically from Websites like Frommer's Budget Travel. Obviously many CRTL subscribers felt that what they once paid for they could now get free on the Web.

That very thought may cross your mind the next time you get a renewal notice from Gemütlichkeit. (You see where this is going, don't you?) Well, just in case it does, here are some things that perhaps you should consider.

To begin with, we at Gemütlichkeit would agree that the Internet is a stupendously useful and rather fun invention. We're not breaking any news here when we say it has brought to anyone with a computer and a modem, travel information that formerly was either impossible or very difficult to obtain. European rail timetables are a prime example, as are driving distances and directions between European cities. There are dozens, nay, thousands of useful travel Websites. Every month we list a handful of the best of them in Gemütlichkeit. You can now look at a typical guestroom in almost any European hotel that's of interest. And the deals. Oh my, the deals. Sign up for free emails from a few online sellers of travel and soon your inbox will be filled with hundreds of packages and special offers.

But can you duplicate Gemütlichkeit on the Internet? Let's say you're looking for an inexpensive hotel with local color in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Go to Google and type hotels Garmisch-Partenkirchen and you are presented with some 37,000 Websites containing that phrase. Somewhere in the top couple of hundred sites will no doubt be the huge Frommer's Budget Travel, an extensive and practical Website, no argument here about that. But how about that hotel in Garmisch? Click Destinations, click Europe, click Germany, click Bavarian Alps, click Garmisch-Partenkirchen, click accommodations, and, from a list of seven hotels, click Gasthof Fraundorfer. You'll next see a short, accurate, though rather juiceless description of the hotel and the price for a double room, €74 or $66.10. The price is a bit puzzling since €74 these days is more like $84 and we paid €90 ($102) last October for a double room there. But a glance at the fine print explains it; the information is taken from the printed 2003 Frommer's guidebook for Germany, the data for which was probably compiled sometime in 2001. So what's there, on that Website, is guidebook information and every traveler should know that guidebook writers, and those who annually update guidebooks, are miserably compensated and receive little or no reimbursement for their travel. Thus many if not most of the hotel and restaurant reviews in the old-line guidebook series, and here I exclude Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, are written from brochures or a visit to the hotel's Website.

Remember, too, that Frommer's covers the whole world, while our little oyster is just three countries. When it comes to quantity of information, we will never compete with Frommer's or Fodor's or Lonely Planet or the myriad of online travel chat rooms. Even in our three countries there are worthy restaurants, hotels, cities, perhaps entire regions, that we may never get to. We've never advanced the idea that our coverage is complete. The Marines are looking for a few good men, were looking for a few good places. I've always thought of us as experienced scouts, checking the trail ahead to advise those coming behind about the safe and dangerous places to camp, where the water's good, the best trails and where there's food for the horses. In the past 12 months, Gemütlichkeit writers have spent a combined five months in Europe doing just that. Our recommendations and cautions are based on what we have personally seen, heard, tasted, sniffed and touched.

What this comes down to is whom you choose to trust. For years we've been sending people to places like Schloss Haunsperg near Salzburg where Eike and Georg von Gernerth epitomize the word gemütlichkeit. While we are fond of saying, and know it to be absolutely true that just one tip, one recommendation, or one warning, can easily save more than the subscription cost, Gemütlichkeit is about more than saving money. For some, Haunsperg is the experience of a lifetime. And what is that worth? RHB

August 2003