Last updated: 08:59 PM ET, Thu September 29 2016

How ASTA is Raising Its Profile With Consumers

Travel Agent | American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) | Robin Amster | September 29, 2016

How ASTA is Raising Its Profile With Consumers

PHOTO: Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger spoke at this year's ASTA Global Convention. (Photo by Robin Amster)

RENO, NEVADA—ASTA is considering creating a fund—based on per-transaction fees from every ASTA member—to finance its consumer awareness efforts, it was revealed during the ASTA Global Convention (AGC) here.

Boosting public awareness of ASTA and travel agents was a major priority for the association under outgoing ASTA Chairman of the Board Roger Block, and one that will continue under Jay Ellenby, Block’s replacement as the new chair.

“We’re tired of hearing, ‘Are you guys still around?,’” Ellenby, who is president and CEO of Bel Air, Md.-based Safe Harbors Travel Group, said of persistent comments about travel agents. “It’s like nails on a chalkboard.”

Ellenby, along with Block and  ASTA  President and CEO Zane Kerby, spoke during a press conference at the recent AGC held at the Peppermill Hotel Spa & Casino. The  2016 AGC drew about 800 attendees, slightly fewer than last year’s convention attendance, said Kerby.

According to Ellenby, ASTA is still considering what the per-transaction fee for the proposed fund would be, but it could be 10 cents or 25 cents or even as low as 5 cents.

Details on the fund are apparently far from being hammered out and that includes how the fees would be paid; whether through agencies or their clients, Ellenby said. How the fee would work with agents who are independent contractors  also hasn’t been decided, he added.

Ellenby—along  with Block and ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby—also discussed what they called ASTA’s recent resurgence, noting, however, that there’s still work to be done.

“The number of members in all [ASTA] membership categories is growing and our relationship with suppliers is as strong as I’ve ever seen it,” said Block. “They are excited about the direction of ASTA.”

Block and Kerby pointed to last  year’s AGC where the top sales executives from United, Delta and American spoke—the first time airline execs have  participated in an ASTA convention since the commission cuts of the 1990’s.

At this year’s AGC, Arne Sorenson, Marriott International’s CEO, and David Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales at United Airlines, were both interviewed by travel journalist Peter Greenberg. Hilfman also emceed ASTA’s Advocacy Dinner.

“His [Hilfman’s] involvement shows the direction in which ASTA is going,” said Block.

Ellenby called today’s ASTA, “A new ASTA; clearly a new ASTA.”

“But we have a lot more to do; my job is to continue the legacy and foundation built over the last few years.”

The association now has 8,965 members in all of its membership categories. However, it faces a challenge in boosting the number of its premium members—there are now 134—and its international members, said Ellenby.

ASTA also will be changing its chapter structure to bring ASTA to its members instead of bringing its members to ASTA, said Ellenby and Kerby.

Currently, many members are  geographically removed from their chapters making it difficult—and in some cases not feasible at all—for them to attend chapter meetings and functions, Kerby explained.

Creating additional chapters—there are now 26 chapters—in certain areas will solve the problem and make the chapter structure more relevant, they said.


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