ASTA Has High Hopes for All-New Global Convention
by Robin Amster

The upcoming ASTA Global Convention will be a very different affair relative to past conferences, with a particularly strong educational component designed to give travel agents hands-on information for getting down to business, according to president and CEO Zane Kerby.

“This is a completely new offering from previous conventions,” Kerby said of the convention, slated for Sept. 16 to 19 in Miami.

Educational sessions – on topics such as negotiating skills, winning corporate clients and turning complaints into future sales – are aimed at helping agents navigate today’s challenging landscape, said Kerby, who joined ASTA in February.

Top billing
Among the most compelling agenda items is a town hall event dealing with IATA’s controversial plans for a New Distribution Capability (NDC).

The session, titled “The Issue of the Century: The Future of Travel Distribution,” will include a demonstration of the NDC interface, to be presented by Yanik Hoyles, IATA’s head of business development passenger.
A keynote address by former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton adds star power to the agenda.

Other noteworthy agenda items include: a cruise panel with the CEOs of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Viking Cruises; an awards program, resurrected after a three-year absence, and special events like the NTA-ASTA Hispanics in Travel Caucus.

Airlines to take part
The convention will also include the participation of a number of airlines, something that hasn’t happened in years, according to Kerby.

“That’s been a glaring hole,” he said. Delta and Korean Air are among the carriers that will participate.

NDC: A big issue
The session focused on IATA’s distribution plans is particularly important, in ASTA’s view. “Right now NDC is just a resolution, so it’s impossible for people to understand,” Kerby said.

“It’s a big issue that has enormous ramifications for how agents share data, when they share data and how they will be compensated.”

The town hall format of the session is new. It will be a more interactive forum that allows more direct communication than previous panel discussions, Kerby said.

The trade show
The trade show component of ASTA’s Global Convention also represents a departure from past conventions.

“There’s been too great an emphasis on the trade show [in the past],” said Kerby. “It’s not that it will be less of a focus, but we are adding other strengths.

“We’re focusing on the educational component first,” he said, adding that agent-supplier interaction through the trade show will still be an “integral” part of the convention.

Supplier relations
The often-fraught relationship between agents and suppliers is not lost on ASTA. “But I’ve been heartened by the reception from suppliers in the last several months,” Kerby said.

“There’s a willingness to re-engage and talk and see where there are areas of mutual benefit.”

“Suppliers are our partners and members as well. We have great suppliers; we have some that are more enlightened than others but our hand is always outstretched,” he said.
Serving ASTA’s members
Kerby said his hopes for the convention go back to “serving the membership and re-establishing the Global Convention as a gathering place for members.”

Kerby noted that he joined ASTA at “a volatile” time in the industry, which underscores the value for agents of joining together in a strong association.

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I learned a lot about better ways to market the product while I was onboard [the Viking Star]. The biggest challenge for travel agents is understanding which is the best line for each customer, being able to distinguish the products from one to the next.
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