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ASTA Board Candidate Launches "Solid Idea Express" Campaign

July 8, 2009 By: George Dooley

ASTA’s 2009 election campaign that begins today got off to a controversial start with a press release issued by board candidate Alan Fiermonte, owner, down2earth adventures, LLC,  Conshohocken, PA. In his bid for a Board seat, ASTA member and National Director candidate Fiermonte took aim at ASTA and offered  his "Solid Ideas Express" campaign plan, which he believes will renew ASTA and  “rehabilitate its finances and management.”  

Fiermonte, a longtime critic of ASTA’s direction and governance, claims that ASTA is failing its 3,000-plus shareholder members by ”financially underperforming and by avoiding deep rehabilitation needs in balanced budgeting, open records, membership recruitment and engagement, chapter support, technology investment, and election repairs.”

“My ASTA National Director campaign is about real ideas and not some generalized, nostalgic feelings I have about travel agents," said Fiermonte in his statement. "I won’t bore you with how I feel about the industry. I care about travel agents and their businesses or I wouldn’t be wasting my time in the ASTA election.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Travel Agent welcomes the viewpoints of other ASTA candidates and comments on Fiermonte’s recommendations. We note that Fiermonte’s criticism comes as ASTA has taken a leadership position in mobilizing industry opposition to United Airline’s anti-agent credit-card policy that takes effect July 20.)

Fiermonte said he has analyzed ASTA’s performance through its publicly available annual IRS 990 tax returns for the last six years available and claims ASTA is greatly impacted by the following  five conditions:

    "1)  ASTA dues revenues have dramatically decreased from approximately $4 million in 2002 down to a level of $2.5 million in 2007. That’s declining dues revenue through six Boards of Directors.
    2)  ASTA operating deficits have aggregated to approximately $5 million over 6 years, from 2002 through 2007 (2008 results are not yet available from ASTA). That’s a perfect record of annual deficits for 6 years running.
    3)  ASTA expenses have essentially remained the same at or just above $6 million per year for the last 5 years.  That’s lack of cost control in the face of declining revenues.
    4)  ASTA key executive (mind you that’s just 3 people out of the dozens that work at ASTA) compensation expense has essentially remained the same, hovering between $600,000 and $700,000 per year, or approximately 12% of overall revenue.
    5)  ASTA’s rainy day piggy bank is emptying fast. In the beginning of 2002, the association had unrestricted net assets/fund balance of $6.6. million.  That had shrunk to $2.9 million at the end of 2007.”

Fiermonte says in his statement that the numbers speak for themselves.  He claims: “ASTA is outspending its means and burning through its savings under its current leadership.  While the association is still technically solvent, watching ASTA run through $3.7 million in savings and investments in six years through six Boards of Directors, to simply make up for the annual operating deficits, is unacceptable and painful to me. All of this overspending is a huge drag on innovation and core services to help agencies and to support chapters.”

Fiermonte offered an  8-point “Solid Ideas Express” plan for ASTA that he believes includes “lots of proposed change for the 78 year old association.”

FISCAL REHAB:  Return to balanced budgets, end excessive executive pay, and create a 100% Open Books regime (i.e. finances, minutes, CAC deliberations, Annual M-ship meeting, etc.) in order stop the $6 million in red ink
MEMBERSHIP INTEGRITY: Create pay-your-fair-share dues structure based on organizational size. Revamp membership policies to prevent wholesalers and tour operators from paying agency-level dues.
SMALL BUSINESS EQUALITY: Create a Small Business Advisory Council to balance the Corporate Advisory Council and the Premium Membership.
TAKE-CHARGE RECRUITMENT: Work to grow ASTA through a national “Travel Agents Are Heroes” membership recruitment, retention and education campaign. Show suppliers our true colors.
CHAPTER SUPPORT: Help chapters regain strength and programming prowess to serve small- business members. Subsidize some chapter programs.
INVEST in TECHNOLOGY: Invest in and develop a robust travel agency e-commerce and content management platform for any ASTA members who want state-of-the-art web-based tech to help their small businesses. License it to agencies for FREE or low cost.
FREE RESEARCH: Remove cost barriers to research info.  Make ASTA research 100% FREE to all members (stop charging small agencies).
REVAMP ELECTIONS: Rehab highly flawed national election process.

Fiermonte  said that he hopes other ASTA voting members will agree with his line of thinking and help elect him into one of five open Board seats where he can press for reforms with other members.  “Other candidates will probably tell you how they feel about the industry or who they are," he said.  "I prefer to put up some solid ideas and let them lead for me.”

Eight candidates are competing for the five open national Board of Director positions in the election, which begins today. Candidate bios and statements can found at  Voting ends at 5 PM ET on July 22.  Results will be announced on July 23.

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By George Dooley | July 8, 2009
Agent offers plan to improve ASTA policy and governance.
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