Bouncing around Strasbourg

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I just spent a week on a pogo stick. Which is to say, I've come from an ASTA congress, bouncing from one event to another, in Strasbourg, France.

I offer these observations:

  • Speakers, topped off by Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair, frequently exhorted agents to be passionate about their work -- and to have fun.
  • We heard it in Doris Davidoff's session on recruitment and Dianne Moore's session on rediscovering a passion for this business.

    Dianne added a nugget that stuck with me: It is not good to have clients think agents won't be around anymore, but agents contribute to this impression whenever they reveal their own pessimism to the press or in any forum, she said.

  • Speakers said the Internet will not push brick-and-mortar agencies out. Rather, they said, success lies in integrating the brick-and-mortar and virtual worlds. In other words, Web booking sites are not enough.
  • From Judy Rutzler, president of Four Star Travel, Campbell, Calif., we heard anecdotal evidence that the Web does not cover all bases, even for nerds. She said that in her backyard -- Silicon Valley -- her Web-loving clients are coming back.

  • ASTA recounted key initiatives -- congressional lobbying, petitioning the DOT, national advertising -- not merely related to the last commission cut, though pertinent to it.
  • ASTA president Joe Galloway was responding to pay cuts when he listed steps agencies can take to ensure profitability, and his list suggested to me the framework for a session that did not happen in Strasbourg.

    My ideal workshop would have covered options like shared office space, joint CRS contracts, shared or limited ARC approvals, negotiating bulk and/or net fares, buying supplier inventory independently or with other agents, using consolidators, becoming a consolidator for select products, shopping the Web on clients' behalf and charging for the service, marking up supplier prices, etc.

    (Two Strasbourg sessions -- on breaking away from ARC and on service fees -- covered aspects of this list.)

    OK, my ideal is ambitious, too ambitious for a standard 75-minute seminar. Perhaps it would be more profitably cast as a daylong learning session, offered in several U.S. cities.

  • Finally, many of us attended an Armistice Day ceremony at the Strasbourg Cathedral for the unveiling of a renovated plaque honoring the thousands of Americans who died liberating Alsace in 1944-45.
  • We learned that more than 89,000 U.S. servicemen died in France in World War II. So, once again, an ASTA congress intersected with the kind of event that puts our trade concerns into perspective.

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