Travel Market Report and ASTA president Zane Kerby spent some time chatting about the themes he will address during this week’s ASTA Global Conference. Here’s part one of our conversation.
How would you describe the operating environment for travel agents in 2017?
Very strong. As options for purchasing travel broaden, the travel landscape continues to be confusing and complicated for consumers. And those truly unique experiences become less and less available. That’s why consumers are experiencing an “awakening” when it comes to the value of using a travel advisor. For a travel agent, it’s a great time to be in business. Of course there are headwinds, but overall business is good. When I’m out on the road and talking to agents that’s what I’m hearing! Our research backs that up, too. The percentage of agencies that reported a profit continues to rise since 2011. And in 2016 over 70% of ASTA member agencies realized a profit. That’s good news for all of us!
Can you share some of ASTA’s accomplishments with the new administration in Washington?
The government is paying increased attention to the travel and tourism industry and that’s why ASTA is committed to being your voice in Washington, D.C. and by extension, the voice of the traveling public. While you can’t control the outcome, you can have a say in what happens.
As the only advocacy organization that represents the interests of the travel agency community, we’ve experienced many changeovers in administration and congressional leadership. And our job is to maintain relationships and utilize our government affairs expertise to stand up for our industry.
One of the highlights of the year was the introduction in May of the Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act by Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. Getting a Member of Congress to focus on an industry-specific issue like the arbitrary labor “blacklist” travel agencies have been on since 1970 is no small feat. Thanks to our members’ talking directly to their congressmen on Legislative Day (June 7), we are now up to 10 bipartisan cosponsors.
Educating the administration about how certain policies impact the behavior of the American traveler is a critical part of our mission and will always remain a top priority – especially when government changes hands. Ensuring safety and security while facilitating the flow of travel is a delicate balance but it’s one that we can help the administration understand in real time because of the vision and feedback agents provide us.
By showing congress who we are, who we employ, and that we are paying attention the government will understand that travel agents watch out for the traveling public. We are going to fight onerous legislation that is anti-consumer or that impacts our businesses in a negative way.
How would you describe ASTA’s ability to remain focused on the needs of travel agents given the rapid-fire nature of your needing to track and respond to so much change in six months (e.g., travel bans, electronics bans, Cuba travel)?
For the past eight years running our membership has told us that consumer awareness is the top unmet need. With so much going on in the administration related to travel – it’s created a unique opportunity of ASTA to be a part of a much bigger mainstream conversation. To show congress and the people, the traveler, who we are and what we stand for, and what we stand against.
To speak in one voice, ASTA listens to many. And together we are stronger than ever. We continue to insert ourselves in the mainstream media by weighing in on important conversations about policies and regulations that ultimately affect the traveler. Our travel agents have their finger on the pulse of the American traveler like no one else does. And just like they stand up for their clients and protect their needs – ASTA is there to support them through that process, and protect what matters to them most, their clients.
How is the relationship between the ASTA and NACTA teams?
ASTA leadership manages two brands – ASTA and NACTA – and through that integration we provide membership value through events, business intelligence and industry resources across platforms. The success is due in large part to the strong professional relationships and sales and marketing efforts of Ann Chamberlin and Bob Duglin, which complements the work of other ASTA staff members. I believe that integrating them into our existing top-notch staff team will strengthen NACTA as a vibrant and well-connected community of independent travel consultants while helping ASTA meet its mission to promote and defend travel agents.