Attendance at the ASTA Global Convention has been on the
rise in recent years, which the Society largely attributes to striking a number
of partnerships with suppliers and consortia that either mandate or subsidize
memberships for agents.
In recent years, ASTA has been working to "reinvent"
its convention, said president and CEO Zane Kerby.
"There's barely any physical proof that a trade
association exists other than when you get together and the feeling that
happens when you bring a community together. That's how you know it exists,"
said Kerby, who joined ASTA in 2013. "Otherwise, you're just a shadowy
group in Washington that might make bad things not happen every once in a
That reinvention has helped bolster numbers. In 2014, the
convention drew 431 attendees when it was held aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.
In 2015 in Washington, the conference drew 850 attendees. The following year, it
drew 739, a dip largely attributed to its location in Reno, Nev. This year, the
ASTA Global Convention drew 1,003 attendees in San Diego.
With the 2018 Global Convention headed back to Washington,
Kerby said he expects another bump in attendees.
For the past several years, ASTA's education steering
committee has worked to create better programming for conference attendees,
which Kerby said he believes has played a role in the rise in attendance.
He said he also suspects the growing number of home-based
agents is playing a role. The convention gives them a sense of community and a
chance to network, he said, and this year's show saw an uptick in the number of
independent contractors (ICs) who attended.
However, a "key part" of the convention's growth,
Kerby said, has been agency network partnerships that have either subsidized or
mandated ASTA membership as well as a push from those networks encouraging their
members to get involved in the Society. They are also holding events and
meetings of their own concurrently with the global convention, further buoying
The partnerships began several years ago. In 2014, MAST
Travel Network began subsidizing ASTA membership for its agencies, reducing the
cost of membership. Then, in the same year, Signature Travel Network mandated
that all members join ASTA, a move quickly followed by the Travel Leaders
Other networks, such as the Leisure Travel Alliance and
American Marketing Group, parent of Travelsavers and the Network of
Entrepreneurs Selling Travel, have also begun subsidizing membership in some
Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network, said the
Society was in a tough spot around 2010, when he was a board member. It was
losing money and in a bad financial position, he said, and show attendance had
fallen. Today, though, the Society is "solidly in the black," and
outreach to the industry has paid off.
Block said, "Everyone, I think, is starting to realize
that ASTA is truly the only group that's there to lobby -- but also inform --
regulators, congressmen and state legislators about the economics of a travel
agency: why we are pro-consumer, pro-traveler, and how the various legislative
activities and/or regulatory activities impact consumers."
Several years ago, Block said, ASTA held a meeting with
consortia leaders, talking about the importance of the Society.
"The consortia stepped up, because the consortia really
aren't geared for lobbying," he said.
Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network,
"[ASTA does] everything I don't want to do, to put it
plainly: the regulatory stuff, the advocacy on the Hill and in state
legislatures," Sharpe said. "All that stuff that we're ill-prepared
to do as consortia, they do and have an unbelievable track record."
ASTA has also been making a more recent push with host
agencies, evidenced by a growing number of ICs who have become members and are
attending the conference, Kerby said. The Society recently introduced a
membership category just for ICs, costing $199, and 600 have since joined.
Last fall, Nexion implemented a program offering monthly
payments of $17 for ASTA membership and inviting ASTA staff to speak at its
conventions, boosting new memberships. This year, KHM and Uniglobe were honored
as ASTA's host agencies of the year for their recruitment efforts.
"I think that everyone can feel that ASTA has a good
team here in Washington and that we're attracting great agents to our network,"
Kerby said. "So they're willing to step in and invest."