Skift, a media group serving travel suppliers with marketing insights, came under fire from travel agents at ASTA’s Global Convention in San Diego this week after it attacked ASTA for hosting its opening reception at SeaWorld San Diego.
“Responsible travel brands are taking steps to ban bookings of tourist attractions involving direct human interactions with animals,” wrote Skift’s Dennis Schaal on the eve of the ASTA Global Convention.
“Given all the SeaWorld controversies that the film “Blackfish” uncovered, coupled with ongoing federal probes, couldn’t ASTA have picked an alternative venue for its opening reception?”
However, several agents felt Skift was unfairly picking on ASTA. Agents told TMR that sponsors of Skift's forums have commercial ties to SeaWorld and that the Skift annual forum was held two years ago at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a site that has found itself in the middle of several scandals (in 2012, the New York Daily News reported a worker died after falling while trying to crawl out of an elevator and, more recently, a dozen workers walked off their jobs citing “unsafe working conditions, lack of benefits, and poor pay”).
Café Moskau in Berlin, the site of a 2018 Skift Forum, has drawn the ire of some locals who see its conversion into a high-end conference center as part of the city’s ongoing gentrification that is eroding lifestyle of the city’s long-time residents.
“Frankly, if I called you up and said, ‘Hey, look at where Skift is holding their events, you might hang up on me,” the agent said. “I just happened to think they made a mistake in the way they came after ASTA in this case.” He pointed out SeaWorld is number nine on the list of things to do in San Diego, according to US News & World Report. TripAdvisor’s CEO is speaking at Skift’s next conference in New York. “I assume he was invited by Skift. I don’t think he is just showing up, yet TripAdvisor has Sea World on its list of recommended things to do in San Diego,” he added.
“It seems like a double standard to take a swipe at ASTA but take money from others that are selling SeaWorld,” said one agent.
“At the same time, I think Skift has started to understand the importance of retail travel agents, which is a big change from a couple years ago. They used to think everything was all about online, so I hope they continue to gain a better understanding of the importance of the trade. I just think they made a mistake in this case,” the agent added.
ASTA officials declined to comment.