ASTA is launching its first-ever membership drive
this month, an initiative called "Join and Be Counted" that takes place from May 14-21.
Through an ad campaign and by working with several travel agency consortia, ASTA aims to persuade agents and suppliers that they need to "step up and join ASTA", which means paying dues, said ASTA CEO Tony Gonchar.
Gonchar said consortia are communicating to their members the importance of joining ASTA.
"[Consortia leaders] are telling their members to consider now more than ever the reasons they need to be part of ASTA," Gonchar said.
Gonchar said that all travel agents benefit from work ASTA does, but only about a quarter support it by paying dues.
"We are a nonprofit that benefits everybody in the marketplace," he said. "You can get all the benefits of ASTA without contributing to ASTA, all the important legislative and lobbying efforts we do. That sort of free-rider approach doesn’t seem fair."
Gonchar said ASTA's marketing efforts have contributed to this year's surge in positive consumer articles about travel agents and the recent victories in state legislatures to defeat bills that would have taxed travel agencies.
"This is all the work we’re doing on behalf of the agent community, and it doesn't happen for free," Gonchar said.
"If you are getting the benefit of this association and not participating in that, well, shame on you," Gonchar said. "You should be a member of the only organization dedicated to protecting your business. For 76 cents a day, it's not a tremendous burden to support your only industry association."
ASTA said 20-25% of U.S. agents are currently members. Gonchar said membership rates are significantly higher for travel trade associations in other countries. Looking at ASTA's global counterparts in Australia, Canada and in Europe, he said membership rates average 85%.
"I'm not sure we can sustain the organization with a 20-25% membership rate," Gonchar said.
Gonchar also hopes more suppliers will join ASTA as allied members, by persuading them that ASTA's work and lobbying efforts "help both the buyers and sellers."
Agent membership is $277 per year for core membership and $2,500 for premium membership. Allied membership is $549 per year. Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.