fter the murder of fashion designer
Gianni Versace, his mansion on Ocean Boulevard in South Beach was
sold to a high-tech zillionaire, who now lives behind high walls in
rococo splendor under the Miami Beach sun.
Perhaps it's loneliness, perhaps it's avarice, perhaps it's just
a way to meet the mortgage payment, but word has leaked out that he
will turn the unused parts of his home into a private club.
There are no other details available, but the response has been
enormous. He has been besieged by inquiries and, even more
impressively, blank checks, accompanied by notes saying that the
sender wishes to be a member, and the recipient should simply fill
in the blanks with whatever amount the dues happen to be.
American Express held a breakfast at the mansion during ASTA's
World Travel Congress last month, with ASTA president Richard
Copland and executive vice president Bill Maloney in attendance.
The duo, struggling with a declining trend in membership, could
only dream about what it might mean for membership if ASTA moved
its headquarters into the building. (Of course, to capitalize on
the move, they'd have to open membership categories for swamp
developers, drug lords and Eurotrash.)
Alas, their options limited, they have instead focused on
independents and home-based agents, and in the first nine months of
2003 enrolled 1,800 new members, about 400 more than the previous
two years combined. Having now tapped into these markets, there
aren't many expansion opportunities left, so they've turned their
attention to shoring up areas where they're obviously weak.
And most obvious to anyone attending ASTA functions in the past
few years is the scarcity of young members. For the most part, the
young turks in the association when I started attending functions
in the late 1980s are still the young turks. According to the ASTAnet Web site,
there are more than five times as many members of ASTA's "25 Year
Club" (members who have been with the organization for 25 years or
more) than are in its Young Professionals Society (YPS), comprising
ASTA members 40 years old or younger.
ASTA, incidentally, is not alone in having difficulty attracting
youth to its ranks -- Gen-Xers and subsequent generational waves
apparently are not "joiners" and the aging phenomenon is occurring
in associations generally.
ASTA recently received $7,500 from Thrifty Car Rental to support
YPS. Staff liaison Cheryl Ahearn said the money will be used to
create a YPS area on the ASTAnet Web site and identify, create and market
educational benefits, particularly in the areas of career
counseling and building professionalism. Ahearn said links would
not be restricted to travel-oriented educational programs, but
might include helpful career information designed for a more
While I think it's great that ASTA will be providing younger
members with specific benefits, I think there's an even more
important opportunity present. I think that YPS, as a group, can
help ASTA more than ASTA can help them.
Among those over 40, ASTA members are divided between those who
are rooted in the past and those who are living in the present.
Those rooted in the past not only hinder the organization's
progress, but they make the organization very unattractive to new
blood. A young agency owner who has a successful Web component in
her business and never collected a penny in base airline commission
does not want to join an organization whose members still are
complaining about the way airlines screwed them.
Those under 40 are very much standing in the present, but
represent only a tiny minority of ASTA's leadership (Kari Thomas
and Chris Russo, both chapter officers, are YPS members).
There are few technical barriers to prevent a young ASTA member
from rising to power fairly quickly. Although one must be a chapter
officer before becoming an area director, one need only be a voting
member of ASTA for two years before running for an executive
committee position (the only exception being the presidency -- in
reaction to Mike Spinelli's jumping from the board to the
presidency, the rules were changed requiring a term on the
executive committee first).
To the three stated purposes of YPS -- "networking, education
and career development" -- I would add a fourth: activism. Without
taking a position on specific issues, ASTA staff could encourage
involvement in the association's political system.
If a subagenda of YPS is to attract more young agents into ASTA,
it couldn't hurt to see one of their own in a national office. That
would strengthen the membership in general even more than holding
meetings in a designer's dream house.