Chamber of Horrors

ASTA has asked agents for their help in combating a surprising source of competition

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

Kenneth Shapiro
As the summer travel season hits full stride, ASTA has asked agents for their help in combating a surprising source of competition. Straight from the “Government Finding a Way to Make Matters Worse” file comes news that local chambers of commerce are taking business away from their own community agencies by selling travel themselves.

“Call it infanticide or call it cannibalism, but whatever you call it, the fact that chambers of commerce would be selling travel in direct competition with its members is an outrage,” said Bill Maloney, CEO of ASTA. “Chambers of commerce exist to help local members get more business, not to compete with them.”

To fight back, ASTA has developed a customizable grassroots public relations kit that can be used by members to alert the media and their community about this unfair practice. In addition to a public relations guide and instructions on using the tools, members can download a customizable press release and letter to the editor; a set of talking points; a fact sheet to provide to the media; a letter to government officials; and a HTML letter to be sent to chamber members.

“This issue has become, and rightly so, a serious matter of concern for travel agencies and tour operators across the country who are already facing numerous challenges in their struggle to stay in business, only to find themselves in competition with the very organization that purports to support them,” said Chris Russo, ASTA president and chair.

While we support ASTA’s attempt to fight back against the chambers, they should also be reminding agents that this is a perfect example of why travel agents need to be involved in their local community politics in the first place. By being a strong voice on a local Chamber of Commerce, a travel agency can help ensure its chamber does not enact policies that directly hurt agents. This involvement is especially crucial when times are tough for many local governments.

So, while fighting back against predatory chambers of commerce practices may be a necessary last resort, ideally, with a little proactive engagement, the problem should never get that far in the in the first place. — K.S.