Attendance Hits Mark

ASTA conference attracts 3,000 with unprecedented number of seminars; Push to attract first-timers and nonmembers was critical Copland

By: Robert Carlsen

HONOLULU Although it was nip and tuck right down to the opening bell of ASTA’s 72nd World Travel Congress, attendance finally broke the 3,000 level, something organizers had anticipated, but thought they might not achieve.

Sixty percent of the attendees were travel agents, and 40% of that number were either first-timers to an ASTA convention or nonmembers, according to Richard Copland, ASTA president. The push to attract first-timers and nonmembers was critical, Copland said, noting that a number of suppliers joined in an effort to pay the registration costs of some top-producing travel agents who had not planned to go.

After the events of Sept. 11, attendance at the 2001 convention dropped markedly from previous years’ levels, such as the 3,200 agents who attended the 2000 event in Las Vegas.

The agenda in Honolulu included quadruple the number of seminars offered in the past, according to Bill Maloney, the organization’s executive vice president and COO. Maloney said that many members wanted ASTA to put on seminars about coping with a new Gulf war.

“We decided not to dwell on the negatives,” Maloney said. “Besides, war, at least at present, is not a certainty. Let’s move on.”

If a new war does break out, ASTA will add such things as U.S. State Department warnings and insurance information to its ASTAnet Web site, Maloney said.

The seminar grid this year included destination specialist programs, product news, niche markets, success stories, liability issues and technology demonstrations. Hawaii tourism groups were showcased in the specialist programs and were the hosts of post-congress neighbor island trips for all attendees, the costs of which were included in registration fees.

In other news:

" In what Copland described as “one of the defining benefits of ASTA membership,” the association is launching a Model Travel Agency program in conjunction with Best Western International. Five program seminars will be held throughout the country during 2003 one at next year’s congress in Miami, three at each of the ASTA regional conferences and a fifth at a site and date still to be determined. Bob Stalbaum of Strategies for Success, a travel agent consultant, designed the program.

The program will teach skills such as the development of successful business and marketing plans, the assessment of technology to help determine the most effective use of resources and the determination of long- and short-term financial goals.

ASTA also will offer the seminars in an interactive online tutorial.

" ASTA is partnering with Holland America Line to place a series of print ads in USA Today. The campaign, which will promote the use of travel agents and lure consumers to sign up to win free cruises, is part of the association’s Great Cruise Giveaway promotion launched with Carnival earlier this year.

" Nexion’s vice president of industry sales, Ken Kearney, will head a new Technology Council for the organization. The council intends to offer technology-related resources to help members meet the daily challenges of reducing operating expenses, improving efficiency and providing value to customers, ASTA said.

The final product, according to ASTA, will be available on ASTAnet and refreshed on a continuing basis. It also will include a community forum, links to solution providers’ Web sites, case studies and white papers. Council members include Salman Hasan, CEO of Patheo; Jim Menge and Peggy Spoor, vice presidents of Sabre; Huntley McNabb, vice president of TRX; Les Ottolenghi, CEO of Agentware; and Lee Rosen, CEO of TRAMS.

" Pleasant Holidays, Tauck World Discovery, Runaway Tours, Creative Leisure, Funjet and Hawaii World offered bonus commission certificates to ASTA attendees.

" ASTAnet has created a Selling Center for Allied members, offering free Web pages to display brand content, images and links. Amtrak, British Airways, Auto Europe, Thrifty Car Rental, Best Western International, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean International already have signed up to participate.