ASTA Membership Delivers Value!
By James Shillinglaw
August 30, 2012 11:45 PM
The overriding concern of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is to ensure that our actions resonate with our needs. To that end, ASTA holds itself to three guiding principles --transparency, accountability and focus -- and concentrates on what we do best -- advocacy and representation. This has been our policy and will remain so, regardless of what internal changes the organization undergoes. You stick with what works and tweak what doesn’t.
Can we do better? Of course. There are always areas to be improved upon. In order to be successful, an organization must hold itself to the highest standards and ensure that members’ receive the highest return on their investment. And while there may always be areas to be tweaked, ASTA’s solid record of success in the areas of advocacy, consumer awareness and education continue to provide members with unparalleled value.
ASTA’s greatest strength lies in the legislative and regulatory work we do on behalf of our members, and in providing agents with the opportunity to conduct business in a fair and competitive environment. One of our biggest “wins” this year was the defeat of hotel occupancy tax bills in Connecticut, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. These proposals would have meant any fee income having to do with hotel bookings, already subject to federal and (in some states) state taxes, would be taxed a third time, at rates of up to 15 percent.
We also have worked with the U.S. Travel Insurance Association at the state level, moving toward a more rational travel insurance regulatory system that will eventually save agents the $40,000 it costs to comply with all 50 states’ licensing requirements today. And if that wasn’t enough, we successfully pushed back in states across the country against regulatory requirements such as registration fees and escrow requirements.
Industry-wide, ASTA continuously works to protect members’ interests against costly regulations. Earlier this year, we responded to a proposed government rule that could impose substantial costs on travel agencies, regardless of size, by requiring all websites to be accessible for people with disabilities. ASTA’s filing supported the proposal that “small business” travel agencies, as defined by the Small Business Administration, should be exempted from the technical requirements of the rule.
ASTA also was there representing its members during the Airlines Reporting Corp’s first rewrite of the Agency Agreement in more than 20 years. The result? A new “plain English” agreement that contains no change to the current financial requirements (bond, letter of credit or cash deposit) for existing travel agency location types. Late last year, in response to ASTA’s direct involvement, Travelport rescinded its previously announced plan to impose fees on Travelport subscribers for its Agility program, which included features already contracted for by subscribers with different fee structures than Agility.
At ASTA we know it’s important for travel agents to have 24/7 access to materials that will help them manage an ever-changing business and regulatory environment. Accordingly, ASTA’s industry experts have created a host of vital business information that is readily available on our website’s E-Library. Through a series of webcasts, white papers, member newsletters and alerts, ASTA provides its members with guidance on developing new processes to manage evolving regulations, such as DOT’s new consumer baggage disclosure rule and full-price advertising rule. These publications offer critical information that not only lay out the issue at hand, but also provide workable solutions for agents.
ASTA has been continuing its popular webinar series, offering members the chance to learn about everything from the finer points of selling a destination to the Trusted Traveler program. And, when it comes to on-site education, ASTA’s two annual meetings –the International Destination Expo and the Travel Retailing & Destination Expo--provide travel agents with excellent opportunities to meet and mingle with the industry’s top agents and suppliers while attending seminars that offer innovative ideas and essential skills to grow their profits and boost their business productivity. There simply is no other industry association that provides the depth and breadth of members benefits than ASTA does.
With respect to consumer awareness, ASTA members have said it should be among the association’s top priorities. Members spoke and we listened. As a result, in part, of ASTA’s increased media outreach, pro-travel agent and pro-ASTA articles have been seen by more than 161 million Americans this year. These articles represent a growing awareness among consumers of the unparalleled value that comes with working with a professional travel agent.
ASTA also provides tools to help members promote themselves to the press and local community, whether it’s a webinar or white paper on working with the press or the chance to promote their profiles to an average of 30,000 consumers each month through ASTA’s consumer website, TravelSense.org. The same website also offers members the chance to grow their business with free consumer leads.
ASTA members know the value their membership brings. If you’re not a member, ask yourself, what are you waiting for? It’s an exciting time to be a travel professional, but more than that it’s a fantastic time to be an ASTA member. ASTA’s commitment to its members is unwavering, and as the role of travel agents evolves so does the association that best represents their needs.
Nina Meyer, CTC, is ASTA’s president, chair and interim CEO. ASTA will hold its annual ASTA Travel & Retailing & Destination Expo on Sept. 7-9 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles.