ASTA is lobbying on behalf of travel agents in many states. // © 2012 ASTA
On May 14, ASTA will launch its first-ever membership campaign called “Join and Be Counted.” The campaign will last one week, from May 14-21, and will involve multiple media outlets, including print advertising, social media and advertising through ASTA’s own distribution channels to create an overall membership-awareness campaign reaffirming the importance of the organization’s role in the travel agent community.
ASTA CEO Tony Gonchar compares the organization and its membership efforts to those of National Public Radio. Currently, only 25 percent of the agency community are members of ASTA, meaning that the organization — which is devoted to fighting policy issues that affect travel agents and agencies on a federal and state level — is only being funded by a quarter of the agent community. Gonchar said that this level of commitment is unsustainable.
“That means 75 percent of travel agents are getting a free ride on the backs of the 25 percent,” he said. “It’s time for people to step up and participate. It is only 76 cents per day to support the organization that is saving them thousands of dollars.”
Through the membership campaign, Gonchar not only hopes to gain agent support with new members, he also hopes to increase awareness about what the association offers.
In addition to its policy efforts, ASTA is also trying to convey the message that travel agents are still not only relevant but a necessity when it comes to booking travel.
“We are creating a love affair with the travel agent,” said Gonchar. “We have moved the conversation from ‘are there still travel agents?’ to ‘where do I find one?’”
He referenced several recent articles that articulate the need for travel agents that have appeared in notable publications including The New York Times.
In addition to changing the public’s view of the travel agent, ASTA is also working to grow the industry itself. The organization is working with the White House on a jobs initiative, Joining Forces, which began earlier this year, to create jobs in the travel industry for veterans of the military as well as their spouses. According to Gonchar, the program has been a success.
“During the first quarter, we generated 500 jobs for veterans in the travel and tourism industry, which has drawn the attention of the government and the media because, now, we are seen as job creators,” he said.
The goal is to create 3,000 travel industry jobs through Joining Forces by the end of 2013. While programs such as these are growing the travel industry, Gonchar believes that ASTA needs to get the message out about the importance of being a member of the association.
“We are a nonprofit but we can’t continue to lose money as an organization,” he said. “Our goal is to move beyond the 25 percent penetration to a number that the industry can be proud of. Associations that are like ASTA in other countries have a minimum of 50 percent penetration. If we go to Capitol Hill and say we represent 90 percent of the travel agent community, then, we have a much better chance of being listened to.”
ASTA membership is $277 per year and $2,500 for premium membership. Allied membership is $549 per year.