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Board Candidate Cites Poor Financial Performance at ASTA

June 19, 2009 By: Travel Agent Central Contributor

In his bid for a Board seat, ASTA member and National Board candidate Alan Fiermonte claims the association is failing its members by financially under-performing. Announcing his candidacy Friday, Fiermonte cites his thorough analysis of ASTA’s publicly available IRS Form 990s (not-for-profit tax returns), going back to 2002. According to Fiermonte's analysis (which is unadjusted for inflation):
*    Annual dues revenues have dramatically decreased from approximately $4 million in 2002 down to a level of $2.5 million in 2007
*    Operating deficits have aggregated to approximately $5 million over six years, from 2002 through 2007 (2008 results are not yet available from ASTA)
*    Total expenses have essentially remained the same at or just above $6 million per year for the last five years.
*    Total key executive and officer compensation expense has essentially remained the same, hovering between $600,000 and $700,000.

According to Fiermonte, ASTA headquarters had a net deficit of $792,000 in 2007.  The previous year was even worse, he claims, dishing up an $847,000 deficit.  In 2007, ASTA chapters, who file a separate group tax return from ASTA HQ, had an aggregate deficit of $98,000 with 24 out of 31 chapters contributing to that. “All of this overspending is a huge drag on innovation and core services to help smaller agencies and to support struggling chapters,” asserts Fiermonte, who has been critiquing ASTA since joining in 2004.

In the beginning of 2002, the association had unrestricted net assets/fund balance of $6.6. million, and it shrunk to $2.9 million at the end of 2007, Fiermonte claims. “The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "ASTA is outspending its means and burning through its savings under its current leadership and executives.  While the association is still solvent, watching ASTA run through $3.7 million in savings and investments in six years, to simply make up for the annual operating deficits, is painful to me.”

Fiermonte released the follwoing campaign statement to clarify his thinking: 
“The status quo at ASTA HQ needs to change and a small business oriented, fiscally prudent makeover is just the ticket.  Membership revenue has been decreasing for 7 years (down $1.5 million) and ASTA has an almost $6 million deficit. Chapters are suffering from lack of resources.  And yet ASTA continues to reward its top 3 executives more than $640,000/yr.  ASTA needs innovative, agile leadership (and not staid corporate establishment types rubber stamping CAC and Premium Member decisions from their overstuffed chairs) to restore small businesses to their rightful place at the decision-making table.  I will work to place hard working small businesses and their needs definitively back at the center of ASTA’s agenda.  I will work with other Board members and Chapter leaders to:
*    Create a Small Business Advisory Council (and summit) to balance the Corporate Advisory Council and the Premium Membership.
*    Stop ASTA’s multi-million dollar deficit spending (7 years straight, $6 million in red ink)
*    Return to balanced budgets and create a 100% Open Books regime (i.e. finances, minutes, CAC deliberations, Annual M-ship meeting, etc.)
*    End the excessive $640,000+ in executive compensation (now 12% of revenue)
*    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.
*    Work to grow ASTA through a national “Travel Agents Are Heroes” membership recruitment, retention and education campaign.
*    Help chapters regain strength and programming prowess to serve small business members.  Subsidize some chapter programs.
*    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 technology to manage and run their small businesses.  License it to agencies for FREE or low cost.
*    Make ASTA research 100% FREE to all members (stop charging small agencies).
*    Rehab highly flawed national election process.”

Fiermonte admits that his solutions will depend on what the data shows since ASTA does not release any highly detailed financial and membership breakdowns to non-Board members. This is his second run for ASTA’s National Board of Directors. He has not previously served in any ASTA chapter leadership position. The ASTA National Director election voting period will take place in mid-July.

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