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It would be an understatement to say that this is going to be a
watershed time for ASTA. The next year to 18 months will be a
critical period for the future of the American Society of Travel
Agents with a complete overhaul of the organization’s membership
structure already in the testing phase, and the introduction of two
brand-new industry events designed to replace its popular,
long-standing World Congress. And the first test for the “new” ASTA
will be the International Destination Expo (IDE), to be held March
21-26 in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.
ASTA intends for the IDE to fill the destination-education void
created when the organization replaced its traveling,
internationally flavored World Congress with THETRADESHOW, which
will be held in well-known domestic locales alternating between
Orlando and Las Vegas each fall.
The idea is for agents and the industry to do business at
THETRADESHOW, allowing the IDE to focus on agent education. And
with 500 agents registered for the expo as of press time, the event
will certainly give ASTA an opportunity to kick-off this new
The event already appears to face challenges, however, with some
agents and suppliers reporting confusion about the purpose of the
IDE, and ASTA working to put together this first-ever event in a
destination with a still-developing tourism infrastructure in an
unusually tight time frame.
At a recent press conference in Prague, however, representatives
of both ASTA and the Czech Tourism Authority seemed confident they
could pull it off.
“We recognize that the ASTA convention is sort of an Olympic
Games of the tourism business,” said Radko Martinek, minister for
local development. “We are honored to have ASTA choose Prague and
we are confident the Czech Republic will be presented in full grace
and full beauty.”
“We couldn’t have chosen a better destination for the first
expo,” said Liz Culkin, ASTA’s vice president for meetings,
conventions and trade shows.
Culkin said the primary purpose of the IDE will be to help
travel agents “become experts and specialists of the Czech Republic
and Central Europe & The IDE is focused on the
The event will feature a variety of seminars hosted by
participating regional countries, including the Czech Republic,
Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. These seminars will enable
participants to become designated specialists for Central
In addition, a key element of this agent education will be a
wide range of pre- and post-expo tours throughout Central Europe.
Some of the tours within the Czech Republic include Gems of South
Bohemia, Spas and Wellness and Czech Geniuses of Classical Music.
Outside the Czech Republic, options include trips to Hungary,
Poland, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and
While the focus of the IDE will be on education, the expo will
also include a trade show primarily of interest to suppliers that
specialize in Central Europe.
“The expo will give Czech vendors an opportunity to show what
they can provide in this region,” said Rotislav Vondruska, managing
director of the Czech Tourism Authority.
As ASTA looks to get its year of change off to a successful
start, one thing seems certain: attendees to the IDE will leave the
expo more confident in sending clients to this fast-growing
The official airline for the expo is Czech Airlines (CSA), the
national carrier and a SkyTeam alliance member. CSA operates two
roundtrip direct flights to Prague daily, one from JFK in New York
and the other out of Toronto.