SoCalASTA Works to Build Consumer Awareness of Agents' Value

SoCalASTA (ASTA’s Southern California Chapter) reported it is responding to member’s needs by creating a Consumer Awareness Committee and developing a number of projects to generate consumer awareness of travel advisors, their role in the travel process, and the benefits associated with using a professional travel advisor.

"The two things members want most from their trade association [ASTA] is legislative advocacy and promoting the value of travel advisors to consumers," said Jason Coleman, president of SoCalASTA. "There is clearly a legislative role for national ASTA in Washington, DC, but I believe the local chapters are best equipped to manage their own state and local legislative efforts and grassroots consumer awareness campaigns. These are the two primary functions I have identified for SoCalASTA to pursue as our major activities."

At a recent SoCalASTA meeting, attendees discussed the need for an image makeover for the traditional travel agent. The meeting’s topic was prompted by a discussion on KFI-AM 640, a Los Angeles talk radio station, where during a discussion of Expedia removing American Airlines flights, a guest host asked "Are there still travel agents? Is that still a job?" That resulted in hundreds of passionate E-mails from travel professionals providing a very loud answer to the question, Coleman said.

The meeting identified a number of issues that the travel industry continues to struggle with: Defining "travel advisor" while recognizing that there are various models and types of consultants and not all do the same things. Another issue is preparing travel advisors to respond appropriately when consumers and media question advisors relevance – while not compounding the problem with conflicting answers and misinformation. The third issue is recognizing that a national consumer campaign is not financially feasible and that awareness efforts are best implemented on the grassroots local level, Coleman said.

The SoCalASTA Consumer Awareness Committee is co-chaired by Justin Dolan, director of sales at CTA Travel in Cerritos and Steven Jones, a representative from Los Angeles World Airports (which includes LAX and Ontario). Membership on the committee is open to any travel professional in the chapter’s geographic territory regardless of their ASTA membership status, however all campaigns will only feature and promote ASTA members.

SoCalASTA’s Consumer Awareness Committee’s initial list of projects includes:

Southern California Parades
SoCalASTA is examining ways to participate in local parades to raise consumer awareness and promote SoCalASTA member advisors to the traveling public. Major parades under current consideration include the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the L.A. Gay Pride Parade, the Kingdom Day Parade, the Catalina Island 4th of July Parade, and various smaller community parades throughout the chapters geographic territory.

Vacation Radio Magazine/Travel Minute
SoCalASTA is considering producing two online podcasts for possible future radio syndication to promote vacation travel. Vacation Radio Magazine is a weekly full-length program with various regular segments featuring SoCalASTA advisor and allied members presenting various topics. Travel Minute is a daily one-minute travel topic devoted to providing current travel industry news, tips, and trends.

Speaker's Bureau/Public Events
SoCalASTA is exploring developing a speaker's bureau to participate in consumer events such as the L.A. Times Travel Show, speaking at various clubs and organizations such as Chambers and Rotaries, and providing media outlets with SoCalASTA advisor and allied member trained experts to comment and interview on various topics.

National Travel and Tourism Week/Travel Rally Day
SoCalASTA is discussing ways that our chapter can be involved in U.S. Travel Association’s National Travel and Tourism Week, and specifically Travel Rally Day on May 10, 2011. The purpose of the week is to promote the travel and tourism industry to the public and demonstrate the economic benefit of the industry to the local community. Partnership opportunities are being explored with local airports and visitor’s bureaus.

SoCalASTA is investigating ways to promote ASTA's member directory at and make it a portal to local member advisors. Using a fresh facade, new brand name and tagline, and regularly updated content, all SoCalASTA campaigns will direct traffic to this portal for the benefit of member advisors. A companion print campaign will be created to compliment the new portal and all consumer oriented projects.

Consumer Travelogues
SoCalASTA is studying the feasibility of converting its current Destination Dinner meetings to a travelogue film series that would be open to the public in addition to travel professionals. Travel professionals would arrive for a reception or dinner and supplier trade show before the film screening, and consumers would be invited to purchase tickets to the screening. Marketing tie-in programs would be created to feature SoCalASTA advisor and allied members.

Publicist/Public Relations Representative
SoCalASTA is developing a request for proposals to solicit bids from publicists and other public relations professionals to consult with the chapter’s board and Consumer Awareness Committee. The role of this professional would be to recommend, direct, and implement various projects that promote the use of travel advisor members to the traveling public, Coleman reported.

Consumer Research
SoCalASTA is researching ways to survey consumers about their opinions, preferences, and motivations concerning the awareness and use of travel advisors. Through the use of traveler surveys at local air and sea ports, consumer focus groups, and other data collection resources, the chapter will gather valuable insights to help it develop and implement other programs that target the messages that resonate with consumers.



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