The September 2008 issue of Conde Nast Traveler was labeled “The Power Issue.” Supposedly focused on “the most powerful pioneers in travel today,” the heavily scented magazine (why does a travel magazine need to include nauseous scents? honestly) couches only a few “power of travel” pages among articles on Ultimate Tuscany and Best of the American Southwest.

It’s a good thing the writing in CN Traveler is almost always sterling (almost — at other times the writers are self-serving and egoistic) because tantalizing ideas like “pioneers” can be awfully misleading. While President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, a bunch of eco-tourism activists, the instigator of the “airline passenger bill of rights,” and 50 million Chinese tourists are, I’m sure, having just as much impact on worldwide travel as the magazine claims, there’s a whole lot more going on out there. Even in this issue of CNT, I was fascinated with the short piece on local travel companies organizing humanitarian relief in Myanmar after the country was hit with a devastating cyclone.

That article itself, which barely touched the country long known as Burma, hit a sensitive bone of travel’s impact far more than the supposed power section. The argument over whether tourism to countries under repressive dictatorships or military regimes either keeps those governments propped up, or hastens their downfall as citizens are exposed more widely to the outside world (and the outside world keeps in mind the plight of those stuck under isolationist regimes), is one that will probably never be resolved.

While it’s easy to pan glossy travel magazines for their focus on luxury and boring “best of” lists, it often takes a high-end publication like Conde Nast Traveler to bring some of the world’s most important issues to the eyes of people who might otherwise never give them a second thought. Who says you can’t look for an article about Ultimate Tuscany and be enlightened at the same time?