ASTA recently completed its annual Global Convention in Reno, Nev., and president and CEO Zane Kerby sat down with senior editor Jamie Biesiada to talk about the Society’s continued focus on advocating for its members in Washington, as well as its emphasis on promoting member agents to consumers.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about the “new ASTA.” How do you define the Society today?

A: I think our mission is fairly consistent: It’s to promote and defend the travel agency members who are in our network. All of the activities that we are engaged in are in support of one of those two missions. They do a pretty good job of feeding each other, so the better we get in promoting agents with consumers, the easier it will be to go and lobby on their behalf.

Zane Kerby
Zane Kerby

Q: What are some initiatives you’ve been working on to promote your mission?

A: On the defense side, obviously, the new overtime provisions [widening the number of salaried workers eligible for overtime pay] are extraordinarily disruptive to agency business. So we have not only held face-to-face meetings with the Department of Labor, but we’ve petitioned them twice now for clarification to see if they are going to stick with their handbook and what has been handed down by the [Obama] administration, or if they’re going to follow the case law, which is entirely in agency owners’ favor. On the promotion side, we bought some ad space on Travel Channel’s electronic distribution platform that will run from the middle of October to the middle of November.

Q: ASTA recently unveiled “Travel Agents Taking Off,” an online news program about how agents are shaping the industry. What future plans do you have for agent promotion?

A: We know that to reach the millennial traveler, we have to work in video. Obviously from the research we did with TNS Global earlier this year, millennials are using travel agents. We feel like reaching them through video and through short video vignettes is the right move, so we’re going to continue to produce very high-quality, short video snippets and put them in places where consumers, particularly millennial consumers, are going to be.

Q: How have your partnerships with consortia helped ASTA’s recent growth?

A: They are the key. They really breathe new life into the organization because — I think [Signature Travel Group CEO] Alex Sharpe said it best at the advocacy dinner — ASTA does all the boring stuff, the fighting in Congress and representing them to the administration and to the DOT and helping out with all these really hard, sort of arduous places so that the consortia can really focus on what they do so well, which is to build preferred-supplier networks and help educate their agents. … Because [our consortia partners] believe in the mission of having a strong national trade association, that’s why we’re able to do things like [promote agents] and not only focus so heavily on the [defensive] side of the house.

Q: ASTA recently announced a “moonshot” initiative that could result in a transaction fee on members to fund promotions. How is that evolving?

A: It’s yet to be determined. Any conversation about how we could roll it out, who we may partner with, is going to remain private at the moment until we can get more meat on the bone.

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