ASTA has created a committee that will identify and discuss issues in hotel distribution.

The Hotel Distribution Advisory Committee, made up of 10 travel agency and industry representatives, will meet regularly, ASTA said.

In addition to identifying and discussing issues in the hotel and lodging sphere, the committee will set priorities for ASTA based on those issues, and advise about the best way to respond and position ASTA on developments in the hotel space. The committee will also share knowledge and stay on top of industry issues.

Mark Meader, ASTA’s vice president of industry affairs, said the committee will take a “deep dive into several of the top issues that may be defined by this committee.”

In some initial meetings, the committee has begun to identify some issues, Meader said: new distribution channels, like apps and mobile technology, and the implications they may have in hotel distribution; book-direct marketing campaigns that some hotels are promoting; and a broad look at education, “whether that’s education to consumers, to other agents, to hotel partners, etc.”

The committee might also delve into the impact of short-term rentals on the hotel industry, Meader added.

The members of the committee are Shaun Balani, CEO of Travel Time/Travel Leaders, Lancaster, Pa.; Kelly Bergin, president of OASIS, Boca Raton, Fla.; Marilyn Clark, a travel adviser with Lighthouse Travel, Huntington Beach, Calif.; Christopher Dane, president of Hickory Global Partners, Delray Beach, Fla.; Julia Douglas, president of JetSet World Travel, Chicago, Ill.; Karen Goldberg, managing director of hotels and resorts for Virtuoso, New York; Toni Lanotte-Day, president of Toni Tours, Levittown, N.Y.; Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, New York; Mike Reich, owner and corporate travel specialist at Master Travel and Cruises, Wellington, Fla.; and Brian Wills, product marketing manager of the Americas, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Minneapolis.

The 10-member committee noticeably does not include any hoteliers, but Meader said their inclusion is an eventual possibility.

“We’re taking it one step at a time, and so our first step was to pull together a committee of ASTA members who are very experienced and skilled within the hotel realm,” he said. “In fact, we have discussed with the committee that over time, and at the right point in time, we may look to add other representation from the industry like hoteliers themselves.”

Those possible additions would come after the committee has identified which issues are relevant and deserving of further discussion, according to Meader.

“By no means have we eliminated, or not thought of, the inclusion of the representatives of the hotel community,” he said

One of the issues the committee will likely discuss — book-direct campaigns, in which hotels offer consumers perks like free WiFi for booking directly — has been in ASTA’s crosshairs recently.

Last year, ASTA entered into discussions with Marriott over its #itpaystobookdirect campaign, which offered perks to Marriott Rewards members who booked on the company’s website. A video from the campaign was removed after those discussions. ASTA said it had offended travel agents.

Other book-direct campaigns were then brought into the spotlight, including a Hilton Worldwide campaign, causing ASTA to schedule a meeting with Hilton. The meeting was rescheduled several times but did recently occur, according to Jennifer Michels, vice president of communications for ASTA.

“Representatives of ASTA and Hilton recently met to discuss a variety of industry issues of mutual concern,” she said. “ASTA found the meeting to be productive and we appreciate Hilton’s willingness to engage us in an ongoing dialogue, which we believe will prove to be fruitful for both parties.”

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