Roger Block, president of the Travel Leaders Franchise Group, talked with Senior Editor Kate Rice about having three Travel Leaders executives -- Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion; John Lovell, president of Vacation.com and Block -- on the ASTA board
. Q: What will it mean to have Travel Leaders, Vacation.com and Nexion on the board?
We each have a different business model, and that's probably one of the advantages. John Lovell, with the consortium Vacation.com, brings one; Jackie, with Nexion, a host agency, is another.
What does it do for ASTA? My members are very open and unafraid to give me their true opinions about what they need and what they're looking for in a trade association. A very high percentage of Travel Leaders agents are members of ASTA, and we do look to it to be a very strong trade association.
I did hear one agent say, "Has Travel Leaders taken over?" We are here to help make ASTA as strong of an organization as it can be. Q: What do you bring to the table?
We bring the collective input of literally thousands of agencies and independent agents. And I would say the three of us bring a wider scope to the issues confronting today's travel distribution system.
We don't have the depth of an agency owner who owns a travel agency with X-million in sales annually and knows the day-to-day technology problems. What we have is a wider view of the issues that agencies are being confronted with today.
In John's case, that means agencies in both the U.S. and Canada. I have a somewhat more national view of what is happening in the industry than an owner might in a particular city. I am looking at what's affecting members in many states and regions. Having Jackie on board, when she is so intimately involved with the host agency business, provides another viewpoint. Q: That tells us what you have to offer ASTA. But why are you all on the ASTA board? What's in it for Travel Leaders?
ASTA is vital to the industry today. It is the only organization in North America, and especially the United States, that is out there presenting a united front to fight the legislative issues that can and do impact travel agencies. ASTA is able to explain to legislators -- and this can mean committee members -- what our industry does and how it operates so legislatures can pass legislation that yes, protects the consumer, but still keeps it workable for the travel agent to operate in an effective manner. ASTA is out there working with organization in a collaborative way, too, saying, "How can we make it better for all parties?" Q: What has been some of the significant work you've done with ASTA in the past?
I was one of the ones who started the Corporate Advisory Committee, which was darn near 10 years ago. We met with Richard Copland and Bill Maloney to see how larger agencies could be more involved and be one voice for the industry and to their credit, we got it. The Corporate Advisory Committee and the Premium Membership have added a lot to ASTA. Q: What about industry participation in ASTA?
About 70% of the members of Travel Leaders are members of ASTA. I don't know if I guilt people into joining --which, by the way, I am not above doing that. But seriously, to me everybody has to do their share of helping our industry to stay strong. If we could get the whole industry at that percentage, that would be a strong organization. ASTA has to be able to say to legislatures, "We represent X percent of all travel agencies." And the higher that percentage is, the more effective ASTA will be. Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.