Bill Maloney, executive vice president and COO of ASTA
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is no longer the “perk-driven” association that it once was, Bill Maloney, executive vice president and COO of the Alexandria, VA-based agency association told Travel Agent.
The “new” ASTA is focused on the business of travel and delivering value to travel agents, Maloney says, while winning new support from the agency community. “ASTA once was suffering from brand damage and many professional agents felt disenfranchised,” he adds.
The social and clubby atmosphere of the past has given way to a leaner, focused professional organization that is representing agents’ business interests with skill and tenacity, Maloney believes. And ASTA is breaking new ground in supporting members with tools necessary for their survival and growth.
Proof of the transformation is the growth of ASTA’s Premium Membership and the value Premium members place on their affiliation with ASTA. Among these new ASTA champions is Terry Brennan, president of Williamsburg Travel Management/American Express, Atlanta. Premium member Brennan said that he was among the newest members of ASTA and had been a “hard sell” for the association.
“What I have discovered is that ASTA is very supportive and responsive,” he says. “They helped us resolve a county tax proposal in Virginia that impacted one of our 16 branch offices, for example. Another [benefit] is the benchmarking research that is very useful to owners and managers.”
Brennan isn’t alone. ASTA’s Premium membership, launched in January 2007, has been a success: A current campaign earned a 91 percent renewal rate that has encouraged ASTA and validated its decision to create the category.
Maloney, now marking his 10th anniversary as ASTA’s chief of staff, said that the new Premium membership has enabled ASTA to reach out to professional travel agents who once felt alienated and to offer the business services they needed.
Currently, there are 159 premium members in the U.S who pay $2,500 annually. So successful has the Premium membership category been that ASTA’s International members petitioned to join. Thus, ASTA now offers an International Premium Membership Category.
ASTA’s Premium members are on the receiving end of some of the industry’s leading research and information resources and networking opportunities. ASTA’s research and analysis—shared with ASTA’s Core members in a distilled form—offer agencies a competitive edge.
Another new ASTA champion is Chris Conlin, president, Conlin Travel/American Express, Ann Arbor, MI. Conlin is a new Premium member who sees ASTA playing a vital role in information and advocacy. He also recommends the value of Premium membership to other agencies.
“To be brutally honest, I had very little interest in the ASTA of the past,” Conlin says, “but with the Premium Membership level comes a new and exciting opportunity to network with my peers at Premium meetings and to have my voice heard at the highest level of ASTA. Premium members are now fully engaged in the efforts of ASTA to unify its message and make it heard industry wide.”
While ASTA has its critics, the reinvented ASTA is well on its way to earning loyalty and credibility among a disparate agency community. The TRADESHOW has gained industry support, as has ASTA’s International Destination Expositions. At the same time, ASTA is attracting a new breed of dedicated volunteer leaders, exemplified by Cheryl Hudak, ASTA’s current president and CEO.
Of crucial importance to all agents, including its 4,000-plus core members, is that ASTA continue to address the often controversial issues that matter to the agency industry. This ranges from combating state taxes on agents and representing agents’ views before Congress and Federal agencies such as the Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security.
Conlin sees ASTA’s advocacy role as a major asset. “Now more than ever, our industry needs one strong voice, and the ASTA of today is finally that voice," he said. "We have battles to be fought and individually we cannot win them. But collectively, with ASTA leading the charge, we have a far greater chance of making a difference and setting policy within the travel industry.”
Brennan also believes that ASTA’s Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), which provides representation for agency consortia, franchisers and cooperatives, is a real asset. “Especially during an election year,” he says, “the agency community has to be alert to what is being proposed in Washington and the state capitals. ASTA government and legislative relations capabilities are outstanding and essential. I strongly recommend that other agencies take a new look at ASTA.”