As I write this, the Travel retailing & Destination Expo is just wrapping up in Los Angeles and, as you can read in this issue’s cover story, “ASTA At a Crossroads,” ASTA seems to be at a turning point. As it searches to replace top leadership, the sense is that the organization is changing from an old model to a new vision of what it should be in the future.
Certainly, the organization has changed quite a bit from its glory days — when online booking sites were still in the future, and there were many more travel agents in the industry — but what industry hasn’t changed in that time? I’ve often said that one of the best things that could happen to ASTA is a case of collective amnesia, which would allow the organization to have a fresh start and a chance to look forward instead of constantly apologizing for its fall from grace.
At this year’s ASTA-LA, I began to think that this change might be possible — and without the amnesia. What I saw at ASTA was an engaged and sophisticated group of travel agents, led by the Young Professional Society (YPS) and the next generation of the travel industry in general, who are eager for an organization that is going to assist them in what can’t be done on their own. This group has no interest in picking up brochures at a trade show; instead, it wants an organization that is going to give agents education, represent them in the media and in government and give them opportunities to collaborate in creative and forward-thinking ways.
I’m happy to say that ASTA seems to be getting the message. Initiatives such as the first-ever Hispanic Caucus; partnerships with organizations and companies including NTA and Microsoft; and the continuation of the Travel Blogger Show are creative concepts that show a future-thinking leadership. Of course, there is further room for improvement, but at least it seems that ASTA understands the need to act. As ASTA president and interim CEO Nina Meyer said to me at the conference, “Let the industry know we are looking for creative partnerships. We’re open to ideas.”
We’ll have to see how successfully these partnerships and new ideas are implemented, but it sounds like, at the very least, the 21st century has arrived at ASTA headquarters. Now, it’s up to travel agents to allow the organization to move into that future.