ASTA Gears Up for DC Convention With Renewed Confidence & Influence

by Marilee Crocker

As ASTA heads into the final weeks before its 2015 Global Convention, president and CEO Zane Kerby couldn’t be more upbeat about the association’s renewed influence and authority.

“This trade association punches above its weight and get things done to help the entire community,” Kerby told Travel Market Report. “Agents should be proud.”

ASTA’s 2015 Global Convention, whose theme is Capitol-izing on Success, will take place at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.

Regaining stature
ASTA expects to come close to its goal of 1,000 agent and supplier attendees, including a much higher international turnout than in recent years. “It’s all about growing and re-taking the world stage,” Kerby said.

The convention’s trade show sold out in July, making it necessary to add more exhibit space. It’s one of the positive signs fueling Kerby’s confidence in a revitalized ASTA.

“Suppliers are seeing the value of ASTA agents. For a supplier who comes to the convention and makes a commitment to ASTA, it’s really good money spent.”

Kerby said he was particularly pleased that a panel on the future of agency consortia will include top execs: Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature; Roger Block, CTC, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group; John Werner, CTC, president and CEO of MAST Vacation Partners, Inc.; Lindsay Pearlman, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group, and David Kolner, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of global member partnerships.

Consortia support
Paul Ruden, ASTA’s executive vice president of legal and industry affairs, pointed to consortia support as evidence of the association’s vitality. “ASTA’s on an upswing. We are getting the support of the consortia and the large agencies who have come to understand that they need somebody to fight for them and be their voice.

“There’s no other institution in our industry that has the experience, the resources and the will to do that,” added Ruden, who will retire on Sept. 30 after more than 25 years on staff.

At last count, agents attending the convention will represent 19 different agency groups, giving attendees a valuable opportunity to network across consortia, Kerby said.

Networking & learning
For agents, networking, learning, sharing information and connecting with suppliers are the chief benefits of attending the ASTA convention, Kerby said. “It’s successful if people make the connections and get the information they need in order to grow and protect their business.”

ASTA has gone to great lengths to ensure that the convention program is relevant for agents from diverse segments of the industry, he added.

For instance, this year’s program offers more content on managing corporate travel, including a session on “Best Practices in Operations and Technology” and another on “Understanding Travel Buyers.”

An intergenerational panel titled “Rewards of Change” will feature first and second generation owners of top travel companies, including: Valerie Wilson, chair and CEO of Valerie Wilson Travel Inc. and Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, the agency’s co-president and co-owner; Butch Stewart, founder of Sandals Resorts International together with CEO Adam Stewart, and Brad Anderson, co-president of Avoya Travel, together with Bethany Anderson-Walter, vice president of sales strategy.

“We have painstakingly put together an education program and general sessions that are designed to help agents maximize their time,” Kerby said.

Political advocacy
In its latest programming coup, ASTA has booked former ABC News White House Correspondent Ann Compton as the convention’s closing speaker. A consummate Washington insider, Compton will discuss the political landscape and the importance of politics.

The closing speaker underscores ASTA’s continued focus on advocacy. “We’re going back to the start in terms of why the collective effort of the association is important,” Kerby said.

“We’re out there to help the public understand the value of working with the agent. We want Congress to understand what agents do. We want the administration to understand that dispensing travel advice is a viable and flourishing business.

“That’s our mission––to defend and promote the travel agency community.”

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