THE VALUE OF VOLUNTEER LEADERS TO TRAVEL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS and consortia is a topic often dismissed as "old" news. The reality is very different—volunteer leaders provide professional expertise, insights and a genuine commitment to the industry. They are truly indispensable and win too little recognition from their peers.
There are many examples of effective volunteer leadership, more than there is space to cover. But a good place to start is to look at the travel agents who lead the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). ASTA is a nonprofit association that has been led by volunteers since its founding. Agency owner Cheryl Hudak, CTC, Travel Dimensions, Boardman, OH, serves as president and CEO of ASTA.
Now in her second one-year term, Hudak has been an ASTA member for decades serving in a variety of volunteer posts. As with other volunteers, a tally of the thousands of hours she's spent on ASTA's business is impossible. Forget travel time or calculating any short falls in managing her agency. The reality is that Hudak provides real time skills, as has a succession of ASTA officers.
Special mention should be made of volunteer agents who testify before Congress on industry issues or before state government agencies. Grass roots participation and viewpoints are indispensable. ASTA, TIA, ARTA and the NTA all benefit. They provide a perspective that the best of professional staffs can't offer.
Another example is Nexion, the host agency group part of Sabre Travel Network. The members of Nexion's board, all independent agents, offer real insights into the needs of other agents including new technologies and marketing. Still another is Carlson Wagonlit Travel members who recently rallied in support of the management buyout by Travel Acquistions Group (TAG). Another notable volunteer programs is Tourism Cares.
Often volunteer leaders serve on advisory boards. Some may or may not be compensated with travel expenses or an occasional trip. But the investment of time and talent rarely match the rewards offered. Volunteering often involves complex issues, endless phone calls, e-mails and time-consuming meetings. And lest it be forgotten, it means taking risk-taking responsibility for the direction of an association.
Volunteers also serve on the boards of agency marketing groups—cooperatives, consortia and franchisers. Groups such as Ensemble Travel, MAST Vacation Partners, Signature Travel and Virtuoso (to name a few) benefit from agency member stakeholder participation. Vacation.com has an excellent board—including regional representation—that gives Vacation.com a competitive edge.
Industry suppliers also benefit from volunteers. They sometimes test new products and promotions, for example, or serve on task forces and committees. The associations also benefit from supplier executives who loan their skills to the associations. The involvement of NTA Destination Management Organizations (DMO), representing cities and states, is noteworthy.
What drives volunteers? Making a difference may be the key motive. Sure some posts have status and prestige. But most volunteers want to give something back to an industry that they have devoted their lives to. Even the most competitive agents will share insights and business practices with other agents. At its root, there is a generosity of spirit and professional dedication that is remarkable. Thank you, volunteers!