Robin Amster | December 23, 2015 12:00 PM ET
Breaking Down ASTA’s Huge 2015
For a while it looked like ASTA’s effectiveness and influence as the representative of the travel agent community was in serious danger.
The association, however, is on the upswing and it made major strides in that direction this year.
It garnered increasing support from the major travel agent consortia, it racked up a list of impressive legislative wins on behalf of agents, and representation by the three major airlines at its recent ASTA Global Convention served to validate its renewed significance in the travel industry.
Now ASTA has announced an ambitious agenda to promote and defend the agent community in the New Year.
Among its initiatives is a new Independent Contractor (IC) membership category for ICs affiliated with an ASTA Premium Agency Member, who sign a two-year agreement or who are already a member of its sister association, the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA). This was approved by ASTA’s Board of Directors earlier this month. The dues for IC’s will be $199 a year.
The development is further recognition of the growing IC and home-based sector of the agent business. Fueled by technology, it’s a business model that appeals to agents with an entrepreneurial bent who value flexibility and independence.
As ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby said, "For the past two years ASTA's large consortia members have been showing an enhanced commitment to the association by subsidizing and mandating membership. We believe a tiered membership structure is the best way for members to pay according to their ability based on sales, and the new IC category is another way to help those agents who want to join ASTA to do so.”
Another priority for 2016: ASTA’s Chapter Presidents Council has voted to allocate money from chapter funds to ASTA headquarters for projects that promote the use of travel agents. The funds will go, in part, to revamping the TravelSense.org consumer website which links travelers with ASTA agents.
According to Kerby, an ASTA board member told him he earned a $23,000 commission from a trip quote requested by a TravelSense user.
On the legislative front, ASTA said its recent victories have helped save the industry $110 million a year in defeated sales and hotel tax expansion proposals in Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Its government and industry affairs agenda for 2016 will be just as aggressive. Among its priorities:
• Fighting misleading hotel marketing campaigns that claim consumers will get the best rates, free Wi-Fi and other perks only by booking direct when agents have access to those same rates and inventory
• Battling state proposals to apply sales and hotel occupancy taxes to agency fees and other income
• Wrapping up a campaign with the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTA) to replace costly and complex travel insurance licensing regulations with a single state standard (currently in place in 42 states plus the District of Columbia)
• Supporting the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act designed to lift the Cuba travel and allow Americans to travel to the island nation
• Working to mitigate the negative impact of pending U.S. Department of Labor proposals related to overtime eligibility and independent contractors
A less tangible priority for ASTA in the coming year was, sadly, dramatically demonstrated this year.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, agents jumped into action, monitoring their clients’ safety and travel plans; notifying, if necessary, their loved ones, and, also if necessary, making alternate plans for them in the face of any travel disruptions.
ASTA will continue to hammer away at that message for public consumption. “As we say here at ASTA, without an agent, you’re on your own,” said Kerby.
More by Robin Amster
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