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
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
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
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