In the Hot Seat: Richard Copland

Richard Copland, ASTA president and CEO, talked to Travel Weekly editor at large Nadine Godwin about ASTA's membership, lawsuits and the future.

Q: ASTA has shrunk significantly in recent years (from 26,000 members in 170 countries in 2001 to 20,000 in 140 countries in 2003). We all understand the challenges, but what is the leveling-off point for ASTA?

A: There is good news and bad news. As ARC's numbers have gone down, ASTA's have; but the remaining agencies are bigger, they are doing more business. Also, ASTA has a new category, the individual travel professional, and that [growing] number is the future of the industry ... and it looks bright.

Q: ASTA reports it has added about 3,000 members in that 2-year-old travel professional category. Has that growth maxed out?

A: That bump will continue significantly. I can see that at 10,000 in five years.

Q: ASTA has to deal with some agents' belief, or disappointment, that the Society cannot do enough for them. What can agents reasonably expect from an organization like ASTA?

A: They can expect continued development for professionalism and, if they follow through, we can increase their profitability. Some blame ASTA for every problem in the world, but they don't understand what we are doing. We can't win them all. We go out there, and we have losses. The most frustrating is dealing with ARC. At times, we have to have a velvet glove. Lawsuits are not necessarily the answer, [and when they are] we can't undertake them all. We have to pick and choose our spots. Our resources are limited.

Q: Do you foresee a significant "win"?

A: I expect the Renaissance Cruises judge to see our point of view and allow one case [of the many brought against agents to recoup commissions] to be tried ... to determine results for everyone. On the GDS rules, I think the government will understand our theme. We believe there should be no rules.

Q: Is ARTA a challenger to ASTA?

A: No. ASTA is the predominant trade group now, especially with the backing of the Corporate Advisory Council (CAC).

Q: Are other types of trade groups, such as consortia, more important as competitors for agent loyalties?

A: The CAC brings us together. American Express, Carlson, Vacation.com -- they are very supportive. There may be competitive aspects, but they are small.

Q: ARTA formed an alliance with Hickory, something meant to give ARTA agents more income-earning opportunities and to provide hosting services to agents wishing to dump ARC. What is your take on this?

A: I don't think that's what we should be doing. I don't want to compete with the consortia and franchisors.

You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].

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