|ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby|
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) just outlined its new priorities and policy initiatives for 2016, including a new membership category for Independent Contractors, increased grassroots organizing and a direct injection of marketing dollars from U.S.-based chapters for consumer awareness.
In mid-2016 ASTA will create a new Independent Contractor (IC) membership category of $199 per year for ICs who are affiliated with an ASTA Premium Agency Member and who sign a two-year agreement, or who are already a National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) member.
"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," said President and CEO Zane Kerby. Travel agents will see more details about this new membership category, which was approved by the ASTA national Board of Directors on December 15, in the coming weeks.
Regarding travel agent consumer awareness efforts, ASTA's Chapter Presidents Council (CPC) has voted to allocate money from chapter funds to ASTA headquarters for projects that will promote the use of ASTA member agents. This will include a revamped TravelSense.org consumer website that connects travelers with ASTA members.
ASTA said it will also defend and promote agents on the government and industry affairs fronts in 2016. Much of that effort involves a focus on state legislatures across the country. In 2015, for example, ASTA and its members helped save the industry $110 million per year in new taxes on sales and hotel tax expansion proposals in Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
On the Government and Industry Affairs agenda for 2016:
- Fighting against misleading hotel marketing campaigns that tell consumers the best rates or free Wi-Fi and other perks only come by booking direct when agents have access to those same rates and inventory
- Opposing 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 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 ban once and for all and allow our citizens to act as ambassadors of American values abroad
- Working to mitigate the worst impacts of pending U.S. Department of Labor proposals related to overtime eligibility and independent contractors
- Updating the DOT Regulatory Compliance Course launched this year that now has 1,600 agents enrolled and saving money by avoiding costly government fines