The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) this week announced to members that it will be taking several steps to incorporate members of its National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) subsidiary more directly into the parent organization.
The move, which ASTA and NACTA executives said is in response to the growth and increased influence of home-based, independent agents, will also result in the organization rebranding as the American Society of Travel Advisors, the organization’s first name change in 77 years.
At the same time, NACTA becomes the “ASTA-Small Business Network,” and its members will be afforded the opportunity to merge their chapters, vote for the ASTA board, and participate fully in ASTA lobbying efforts. For the first time, ASTA-SBN members also will be required to abide by the ASTA code of ethics.
“By bringing these organizations closer together,” said ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby, “we will be able to strengthen our ability to work together. There will be no ‘two-party’ system anymore, just all ASTA chapter presidents and/or an ASTA Small Business Network chapter president.”
ASTA members generally are those with more than $1 million in annual sales, while ASTA-SBN members typically have $250,000-$1 million in annual revenues. Activities and events for the SBN members will be specifically branded for the smaller agents, said Kerby.
Under the new structure, ASTA-SBN members can vote for ASTA’s board of directors, but can run for a board position only if they apply for ASTA core membership, which costs $335-$1,400 a year. Also, SBN members can now enroll in the organization’s Travelsense website, which helps consumers find agents.
ASTA Small Business Network membership will be “frozen” at $165-$199 depending on the membership category they apply for. ASTA premium membership is anywhere from $31,800 to $35,000 a year.
A significant benefit for the parent organization is that ASTA will grow the base for its lobbying efforts.
ASTA Executive Vice President of Advocacy Eben Peck said that the changes will allow the ASTA PAC to “broaden” its base by about 1,700 members, as previously, the PAC was restricted to soliciting contributions from only ASTA members. NACTA members can also participate in grass roots campaigns and the annual ASTA Legislative Day.
Name changes and moves are part of an 18-year evolution
Since ASTA purchased NACTA at the beginning of 2000, it has for the most part run the organization as a separate subsidiary. At the time of the acquisition, NACTA’s 1,000 members were predominantly home-based agents, independent contractors and a rising group of agents working in host agencies – the result of more agents responding to commission cuts by moving from traditional brick-and-mortar shops to independent outside sales.
Attempts to create synergies between the two entities were frequently stymied by the simple differences in size and needs of member businesses. However, over the last two years ASTA leadership has been easing into closer operations between the two.
In 2016, NACTA President Ann Chamberlin took on the added title of ASTA senior vice president, membership, marketing & strategic partnerships, with part of her mandate being working with consortia and host agencies to help enroll their travel agents in ASTA membership.
According to Kerby, that push helped add 940 new ASTA members under a $199-a-year independent contractor (IC) membership category, with about 320 of those agents joining as NACTA members.
ASTA and NACTA executives at that time said there were no plans to merge the two associations, because they were seen as two separate brands, with distinct and loyal audiences. This delicate balance could be seen in how ASTA executives this week described the situation to Travel Market Report in an exclusive interview.
“We understand that NACTA events can be more focused on small business issues, versus ASTA with larger agency issues, and the advocacy work we’re engaged in,” Kerby said. In fact, he added, “where it isn’t possible, for business purposes, or the geography doesn’t allow, chapters can remain separate.”
“I don’t forecast chapters folding or going away,“ said Chamberlin. The requirements for both ASTAand ASTA-SBN chapters will remain the same as ASTA’s current chapter requirements, she said, including commitments from at least three volunteer board members, and 7-10 members per region.
“Where they can combine, that will benefit the audience, the participating suppliers. But they can still operate independently,” she said.
NACTA leadership, which is made up of six regional directors, will remain the same for the time being. Approximately 40 chapters, with their own chapter presidents, align below those regional directors. NACTA-Member Director Helen Prochilo, VTA and owner of Promal Vacations, Long Beach, NY, will continue on the board for another two years, Kerby said.
Chamberlin called the moves “a natural progression, bringing the two associations closer together, the FAMs, the international events at the same price point. There’s a lot of crossover. To me, what I hear in the field, this is a very natural progression to align the two.”
Name change signifies profession’s consumer orientation
Kerby said that about one year ago, as ASTA was conducting its annual consumer research project, the organization tested different terms with the 3,000 consumer survey participants, including “travel agent,” “travel consultant,” “travel professional” and “travel advisor.”
“We asked consumers what they thought of these roles, what the terms conjured up in their minds,” Kerby said. The quantitative responses were informed further with focus group qualitative feedback. “Travel advisor” won out over all of the others, and the name change was recently proposed to the ASTA board of directors, which unanimously approved it.
The new name signifies that ASTA members are “squarely in the role of someone working for the consumer. It more accurately represents the value of agents in [the consumer’s] eyes,” Kerby said.
No staffing changes will result from the organizational changes at this time, Kerby said, including no immediate changes to the ASTA board of directors.
One issue still to be resolved is whether all ASTA members will be required to have errors and omissions insurance, like NACTA members are required today. Kerby said that issue will be taken up at the ASTA board meeting later this month at the organization’s global conference.
Kerby also told TMR that ASTA is enhancing its Travelsense website, and will launch a beta-test in a couple of weeks that will include online chat tools.