In Zane Kerby, ASTA has chosen a CEO and president with experience in two areas in which ASTA finds itself in dire straits: its struggling trade show and its dwindling membership base.
ASTA has been trying unsuccessfully to revive its trade show — both a source of revenue and a tool for boosting membership morale — for nearly a decade. One of Kerby’s accomplishments as senior vice president of events, sponsorships and advertising at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) was his contribution to helping the group make its annual meeting a success.
Roger Block, treasurer of ASTA and a member of its board of directors, said the key to a successful trade show was “not only the speakers; it’s the education and the number of attendees.” GBTA, he said, has “done a really good job of finding out what the various constituencies want and have delivered on it.”
Block, who is president of the Travel Leaders Franchise Group, said, “I think Zane will be very good at finding out not only what the ASTA members want and need but also our allied partners, which are key to the success of ASTA and the whole trade.”
John Lovell, vice president and secretary of the ASTA board and president of Breton Village Travel in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that Kerby’s strengths play to ASTA’s weakness. Nina Meyer, ASTA’s chairwoman and acting CEO since the July resignation of Kirby’s predecessor, Tony Gonchar, agreed.
“He did a tremendous job at GBTA and all in areas where we need help: fundraising, working with vendors, his coordination of events,” she said. “This is all a plus. He just fits in with ASTA’s goals going forward.”
Block said Kerby had demonstrated the ability to build bridges between all parties in order to build a stronger trade association.
While Kerby’s background is in corporate travel, having joined the GBTA in 1999, Block said the new CEO has great depth with many key suppliers, including airlines, hoteliers and car rental companies.
“I think he can easily make contacts with the leisure-type vendors,” Block said.
Moreover, Block said, “I think he cares. And that was one of the things that struck me: The guy has got a passion for the business.”
Kerby, in turn, said last week that he was impressed by the energy of board members during the interview process.
“I liked their enthusiasm for the organization,” he said. “These are volunteer leaders, and that is key.”
Kerby said that after working in a segment of the travel industry focused on cost controls and policy, he welcomed the chance to work in the broader travel space.
“I think that travel agents provide an essential consultive role to the traveling public, and I’m excited to be part of that,” he said.
Kerby said he would work closely with the ASTA staff and board to develop education, events and other touch points meaningful to travel agents.
“I spent years [at GBTA] working to help travel managers do their jobs better, and they responded by giving time to the association and attending the things we put on for them,” he said.
Ryan McGredy, an ASTA board member and president of the Young Professionals Society (YPS), ASTA’s chapter for agents under 40, said that Kerby’s youth (he will turn 41 next month) was another factor considered in the hiring decision.
“He doesn’t carry the baggage of things the industry has done before, or the tensions between airlines and agents,” said McGredy, the president of Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif.
McGredy, who came to travel from the technology industry, said he considered Kerby a kindred spirit.
Because Kerby comes from the GBTA, he is already familiar with the industry yet brings a new perspective and experience with the variety of ways a professional association can leverage technology and data, McGredy said.
“From a YPS perspective, we’re really excited, because ASTA has grown to realize the importance of the next generation of travel agents,” McGredy said. “This is really a sign of ASTA saying, ‘We realize that the future is now, and we’re going to reinvent ourselves to be the association for travel agents from here on out, now and forever.’”
Meyer echoed some of McGredy’s sentiments, saying Kerby “will attract our younger members because he’s more of their generation.”
That said, age was not why ASTA picked Kerby, Meyer said. She said he brings a more global outlook that can help in filling “the needs of the agent of tomorrow,” ranging from young professionals to ASTA’s Hispanic caucus. She praised his attitude.
“He’s coming in with his eyes wide open and saying, ‘You know, I can be part of this change. I can help make it happen. I am challenged by it and I feel good about it,’” Meyer said.
Kerby and his wife, Marcy, have five children and live in the Washington area.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.