Preparing for Prague

Destination Expo is first hurdle for ASTA

By: Kenneth Shapiro

It would be an understatement to say that this is going to be a watershed time for ASTA. The next year to 18 months will be a critical period for the future of the American Society of Travel Agents with a complete overhaul of the organization’s membership structure already in the testing phase, and the introduction of two brand-new industry events designed to replace its popular, long-standing World Congress. And the first test for the “new” ASTA will be the International Destination Expo (IDE), to be held March 21-26 in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.

ASTA intends for the IDE to fill the destination-education void created when the organization replaced its traveling, internationally flavored World Congress with THETRADESHOW, which will be held in well-known domestic locales alternating between Orlando and Las Vegas each fall.

The idea is for agents and the industry to do business at THETRADESHOW, allowing the IDE to focus on agent education. And with 500 agents registered for the expo as of press time, the event will certainly give ASTA an opportunity to kick-off this new two-pronged approach.

The event already appears to face challenges, however, with some agents and suppliers reporting confusion about the purpose of the IDE, and ASTA working to put together this first-ever event in a destination with a still-developing tourism infrastructure in an unusually tight time frame.

At a recent press conference in Prague, however, representatives of both ASTA and the Czech Tourism Authority seemed confident they could pull it off.

“We recognize that the ASTA convention is sort of an Olympic Games of the tourism business,” said Radko Martinek, minister for local development. “We are honored to have ASTA choose Prague and we are confident the Czech Republic will be presented in full grace and full beauty.”

“We couldn’t have chosen a better destination for the first expo,” said Liz Culkin, ASTA’s vice president for meetings, conventions and trade shows.

Culkin said the primary purpose of the IDE will be to help travel agents “become experts and specialists of the Czech Republic and Central Europe & The IDE is focused on the destination.”

The event will feature a variety of seminars hosted by participating regional countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. These seminars will enable participants to become designated specialists for Central Europe.

In addition, a key element of this agent education will be a wide range of pre- and post-expo tours throughout Central Europe. Some of the tours within the Czech Republic include Gems of South Bohemia, Spas and Wellness and Czech Geniuses of Classical Music. Outside the Czech Republic, options include trips to Hungary, Poland, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia.

While the focus of the IDE will be on education, the expo will also include a trade show primarily of interest to suppliers that specialize in Central Europe.

“The expo will give Czech vendors an opportunity to show what they can provide in this region,” said Rotislav Vondruska, managing director of the Czech Tourism Authority.

As ASTA looks to get its year of change off to a successful start, one thing seems certain: attendees to the IDE will leave the expo more confident in sending clients to this fast-growing region.

The Details

For more information on the International Destination Expo including deals on pre- and post- tours, hotels and airfare visit:

Cost: Registration is $229 per agent on or before Jan. 31 and $279 after that.

Getting There: ASTA has negotiated rates with several airlines including Delta, Northwest and Air France.

The official airline for the expo is Czech Airlines (CSA), the national carrier and a SkyTeam alliance member. CSA operates two roundtrip direct flights to Prague daily, one from JFK in New York and the other out of Toronto.

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