Opinion: ASTA Really Does Have Your Back

ASTA's launch of its “Join and Be Counted” membership drive with the support of travel agency consortia, franchisers and host agencies is to be welcomed by professional travel agents.

It not only suggests needed unity of purpose but a willingness to cooperate and advance the interests of the agency community.

ASTA deserves industry wide support from agents and agencies, including independent contractors who benefit day in and day out from its actions. This includes not only needed membership support –think dues - but also involvement with ASTA on its policy committees, its chapters and its Board of Directors. Like the agency consortia, rank and file agents should get involved to shape their own future.

The agency groups supporting ASTA’s campaign - including many of the travel industry’s best and brightest leaders- recognize the importance of highly creditable, professional and well-funded representation in Washington D.C. and in state capitals. They see that travel agents in all their diversity need effective representation or they face extinction.

Agency groups – the consortia, agency owed networks and franchisers as well as host agencies  need the expertise and representation that ASTA can and does provide. 

This has been obvious, as ASTA has had a Corporate Advisory Committee for years with the CAC now represented on ASTA’s Board. Their willingness to build agent and agency awareness of ASTA’s value is commendable.

Some of the key points ASTA is making in their new campaign, stress that, “Every day, state government efforts to increase taxes and regulatory burdens affect all businesses. Travel agents are no exception.”

“ASTA's influence helped deregulate agents' role in travel insurance sales in Florida, Kentucky and Minnesota. This paves the way for all 50 states to adopt a uniform code, lifting the weight of regulations from the backs of the travel agents,” ASTA notes.

“What else is ASTA doing and what does it mean for you?” ASTA asks. “ASTA is the travel agent's face and voice in: preventing double taxation of your agency fee income to keep money in your pocket, providing business intelligence and tools you need to protect and grow your business and promoting the value of travel agents to consumers which will bring you more clients," ASTA says.

“We are dedicated to protecting you, but we need your help to ensure the retail travel industry has a healthy and prosperous future,” ASTA says, urging agents to invest in their future at a cost of  $.76 cents a day.

Recent wins for ASTA include working successfully with ARC on its new agent/airline agreement, with CLIA on its study of the future of agents, and its support of rational Department of Transportation rules on unbundled airline services and consumer access to fare information. ASTA works effectively with other industry associations on a diversity of complex issues impacting all agents.

Tony Gonchar, ASTA’s CEO, makes a solid point: too many non-member agents are being represented for free while the costs are absorbed by too few member agents. Sensibly, he is concerned with the growth in the number and complexity of issues facing travel agents – and suppliers –and maintaining effective representation. Travel agents cannot take their future for granted.

Its worth noting that ASTA also offers other services that can prove invaluable to member agents, ranging from ASTA’s AMSI Marketing Services, to education and training - including timely webinars. There are international and domestic networkin opportunities, a lead generation system, a Young Professionals Society and a resource packed web site. ASTA also has strong marketing research capabilities as well as valuable financial and benchmarking tools for members.

Not least in importance is ASTA’s ongoing promotion of professional agents in consumer media that builds consumer confidence – and agency sales. Finally, ASTA’s National Association of Career Agents (NACTA), a separate unit, deserves mention for its constructive focus on independent home based agents.

Does ASTA deserve the support of travel agents? The answer is an emphatic yes. Consider the impact of any future changes in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules governing independent contractors or the effects of new restrictions on federal travel rules on meetings, conventions or destinations. Or consider the impact on consumers by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations and fees or Department of Transportation (DOT) decisions on GDS systems or ancillary fees? Agents can’t take the future for granted.

With strong member support – including agencies, suppliers, and international members - ASTA’s best years are ahead of it. But ASTA needs the support and participation of professional agents today.

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