Agent Issues Consortia, franchise deals contribute to busy ASTA confab By Jamie Biesiada / September 07, 2015 Share 1 -- WASHINGTON — ASTA’s ranks have been bolstered to a total of 8,600 members thanks in part to mandatory and subsidized memberships from consortia and franchises. ASTA CEO Zane Kerby said during the ASTA Global Convention here last week that those contributions enabled ASTA to continue doing the work it does. “Just prior to the convention last year, several consortia leaders stood up and said, 'ASTA, I have your back,' " Kerby said during the event. He singled out the MAST Travel Network, which since 2014 has paid a portion of ASTA membership dues for its members, an agreement it expanded into a two-year deal this July; Signature Travel Network, which one year ago mandated ASTA membership, a decision it renewed in August; The Travel Leaders Franchise Group, which mandates ASTA membership for franchisees; and Virtuoso, which reimburses ASTA membership dues, making it free for 85% of its members to join ASTA.Kerby hinted there was more to come. “We are close to another agreement,” he said.“The ASTA network is growing because of the consortia support that we are receiving,” Kerby said, noting that the number of Virtuoso and MAST members in ASTA’s network had roughly doubled, while the Signature network’s members had tripled.According to Jennifer Michels, ASTA’s vice president of communication, deals with consortia have so far resulted in around 230 new members. And this year U.S. agency membership is up by 100, which equates to around 600 total agent members.Higher membership has meant a better turnout at the society’s annual convention, which this year drew 920 attendees, almost triple what it did last year, according to Michels. “This is probably the largest global convention we’ve had in five, six, seven, 10 years; I can’t even remember when it was this large, and that’s thrilling,” said ASTA Chair Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group.Of the 920 attendees, 500 were travel agents, Kerby said, as well as over 100 exhibitors. He also attributed the boost to the addition of an educational program with “something for everyone,” whether they are small agents, luxury or corporate specialists or anyone in between. “It worked,” he said. “We have more agents this year than we had attendees all of last year.”Kerby also touted the convention’s strong international turnout, with more than 50 countries represented. The delegation from Kenya included multiple attendees and a large display at the trade show. John Chirchir, the regional marketing manager for the Kenya Tourism Board, said it hoped to connect with travel agents interested in being specialists in East Africa, and Kenya specifically.In addition to seeing a good turnout at the trade show, Chirchir was pleased that more than 50 American travel agents attended the Kenya destination specialist course on Sunday, which featured speaker Ibrahim Mohammed, principal secretary for the Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism.Pat Fulton, of the Mesa, Ariz.-based Departures, said she’s been to more ASTA conventions than she could count. She called this year’s “fantastic — over the top.” Fulton attends the conventions for networking and educational opportunities and hopes they continue to grow. “It’s a wonderful professional organization for travel agents,” she said.Newcomers were also impressed. Kristina Mobley, of Ambassador Travel in Evansville, Ind., was attending her first ASTA Global Convention on a scholarship from her ASTA chapter, MidAmerica. Mobley said the size of the convention was indicative of the industry as a whole right now. “It’s definitely showing that the travel industry is growing,” she said.___Correction: The speaker at the Kenya estination specialist course was Ibrahim Mohammed. An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Phyllis Jepkosgei Kandie was the speaker.