ASTA Bids Fond Adieu

A report from the final World Congress in Montreal

By: Kenneth Shapiro

At ASTA’s 75th and final World Congress, the phrase most often heard was joie de’ vivre. It was undoubtedly a side effect of having the congress in Montreal, the second largest French-speaking city in the world, and a city known for its passion for life. ASTA members, travel suppliers and industry leaders experienced that joy firsthand from Nov. 6-11 as they came together for the final time to talk travel. Beginning next year, ASTA will premiere two new events designed to take the place of the World Congress there will be a destination- and education-focused event called the International Destination Expo and a major industry event called THETRADESHOW.

The Flavor of the City

From the outset, it was clear the congress would take advantage of Montreal’s unique personality. Attendees were treated to a number of sightseeing tours and events sponsored by Tourisme Montreal, and the opening address took place in Old Town Montreal’s gothic Notre Dame Basilica. As ASTA members and industry figures filled the immense church on a rainy night, ASTA officers and others addressed the crowd.

ASTA president Kathy Sudeikis gave the most notable address of the evening. She called for industry-wide cooperation to root out “card mills,” urged members to work together to “restore dignity to our profession” and declared that ASTA will seek out new cutting-edge ways of doing business.

“Too often in the past, out of a sense of fairness, we have let the lowest common denominator set the agenda,” she said. “Let’s change that focus and look to the best and brightest, those agents that are ahead of the herd and not running with it.”

Throughout the congress, Sudeikis and Deb Mangas, Congress Chair, were warmly received every time they took the stage, which was often. Mangas in particular had some memorable exchanges with Charles Lapointe, president and CEO of Tourisme Montreal.

Most congress events, as well as the trade show, were held in the city’s modern and centrally located Palais des Congres. Daily events included the trade show, seminars on a variety of issues, as well as “roundtables” and one-on-one “business appointments” with suppliers. Most agents gave the daily events favorable reviews, although suppliers’ opinions were mixed on the success of the roundtables and appointments. Apparently, most agents preferred to meet with suppliers casually on the trade-show floor.

The show featured over 270 suppliers from destinations all over the world. The most elaborate displays included live music and free pilsner beer at the Czech booth, a full-size “fun bus” from Branson, Mo., a convertible Mustang (along with magicians, chefs and a cappuccino server at the Hertz booth) and a full replica of the new Marriott guestroom.

Guest Speakers and Entertainment

Each day at the Congress saw an action-packed General Session featuring speeches by industry leaders and guest speakers, as well as a variety of awards.

Guest speakers included Canadian world explorer Bruce Kirby, who related for the crowd his many exotic expeditions around the world including trekking across the Sahara by camel. Kirby won over the crowd right off the bat when he said that the first number he programmed into his new cell phone belonged to his travel agent.

Another favorite was Hollywood legend Ed McMahon, who delighted the crowd with clips, anecdotes and jokes from his many years on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Like Kirby, McMahon said he enjoyed a close relationship with his travel agent. McMahon, a dog lover, said he even gave her a puppy.

“I’ve known her for 15 years,” he said of the agent. “When something goes wrong I know she will be there to help me.”

In addition to Kirby and McMahon, a slew of industry leaders spoke to the crowd during the general sessions. One of the most exciting of the industry-related events was a panel on the final day of the Congress called “GDS and the New Entrants: Changes, Myths and Realities.” A panel discussion moderated by ASTA’s Paul Ruden brought together representatives from Cendent, Sabre, ITA Software and G2 SwitchWorks. Despite the technological complexity of the subject, the animosity between the panelists spoke volumes, as Ruden could barely keep the speakers from lashing out at each other.

The atmosphere was much more congenial for the presentation of the numerous awards presented during the congress. Two, in particular, were especially exciting to us at TravelAge West. First, Alan Fredericks, former Editorial Director for Northstar Travel Media (TAW’s parent company) and longtime editor of Travel Weekly, was posthumously inducted into the Travel Hall of Fame. Second, agent Susan Tanzman, of Martin’s Travel and Tours in Los Angeles, a leading figure in Southern California’s agent community and a member of TAW’s Advisory Board, was named Travel Agent of the Year.

In addition, another Western agent, Susan Parr, of Susan Parr Travel in Port Angeles, Wash., was presented with ASTA’s Extra Mile Award. The award is given to an agent who “goes above and beyond the call of duty to help their customers.” Parr demonstrated that dedication when she traveled to Ethiopia herself in order to bring back her clients’ newly adopted baby.

“Her selfless efforts make her extremely deserving of this honor,” ASTA president Sudeikis said of Parr. “Knowing her and how wonderful she is, we are so pleased to present her with this award.”

Time to Party

Awards, motivational speakers, educational opportunities and supplier interaction are all well and good, but congress-goers also know how to party. Beginning with individual chapter dinners at restaurants and bistros around town, Montreal lived up to its reputation for having a thriving nightlife.

The highlight of the congress dinners was presented by the Casino de Montreal and other partners. Along with a gourmet dinner, there was a musical performance by the group From Rock to Opera. After dinner, shuttles took attendees to the casino for a night of gaming.

The next night saw the advocacy dinner. This black-tie event designed to show support for ASTA’s lobbying work in Washington, D.C., was held in the elegant Windsor Ballrooms. The highlight of the evening was a performance by members of the troupe that is doing a stage adaptation of the “Lord of the Rings” in Toronto.

The final dinner of the congress was hosted by the Czech Republic. Prague will be the site of the first International Destination Expo, March 21-26. The evening was the culmination of the congress and represented the handing over of the torch from one destination to the next.

At this year’s World Congress, ASTA members said goodbye to the long, rich history of the congress just as the organization itself is facing a number of major changes, both in its membership structure and in its industry events. In light of these developments, there is little doubt that history will see the Montreal Congress as a watershed moment in the organization’s history.



ASTA’s World Congress saw:

- Over 2,200 attendees

- Over 270 exhibiting companies, with 40 countries represented

- Over 75 domestic and international tourist organizations

- Over 45 hotel brands and properties

- Over 25 cruise lines

- Over 40 travel and tour companies

- Over 15 technology firms

- Over 15 publications

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