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Airline-agent relations, travel to Cuba and government policies were among the hot topics at the ASTA Global Convention, the annual meeting of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
Airlines Apologize and ComplimentFor the first time since air carriers began commission cuts in the mid-1990s, a group of airline executives was among the featured speakers at the conference, which took place Aug. 29 to Sept.1 in Washington D.C.
“Shame on us for being absent so long,” said Bob Somers, vice president of global sales for Delta Air Lines. “The importance of the travel agent was never lost on us. You have our commitment to have your back and provide you with the service you need.”
Some 900 attendees were present for the panel of airline executives, which included Dave Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales for United Airlines.
“I applaud the agency community,” Hilfman said, also noting that travel agents are responsible for United’s highest-margin business.
An Open Cuba’s PotentialCuba was another attention-getting topic during this year’s event. A standing-room-only workshop about selling the Caribbean destination was off-limits to journalists. But ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby, during his opening statements at a general session, addressed the need to further open Cuba to tourism.
“Just a week ago, I flew with Eben Peck, who runs our government and industry affairs, to Havana Cuba for the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy,” he said. “It was worth it to get a little face time with Secretary of State John Kerry and other senators and congressmen to push for the opening Cuba to all Americans who want to travel there.”
According to Kerby, an open Cuba is good for agents and the traveling public.
ASTA’s Best Days Ahead Kerby took a similarly positive tone when he addressed attendees about his organization’s future.
“Let me explain why I think that ASTA’s best days could be ahead instead of behind,” he said. “Just prior to the convention last year, several consortia leaders stood up and said, ‘ASTA, I have your back’ — leaders such as John Werner at MAST [Travel Network] and Alex Sharpe at Signature Travel Network.”
Kerby added that after last year’s convention, ASTA chairman Roger Block mandated ASTA membership for Travel Leaders franchisees. And in March, Matthew Upchurch decided to reimburse ASTA membership dues, making it free for 85 percent of Virtuoso members to join ASTA.
“And we are close to another agreement,” Kerby said.
Among the initiatives to debut during this year’s ASTA Global was the Global Travel Exchange, which aims to connect members of ASTA from other parts of the world with members in the U.S. More than 120 international delegates took part in the event, giving U.S.-based agents a chance to network with DMCs from a variety of other nations.
In addition, Kerby announced that ASTA representatives would be meeting with congressmen from the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which he described as “the single most important committee for travel agents on Capitol Hill.”
“It oversees everything having to do with your business — ticketing, airline ancillary revenue, code-share disclosures, cruise ticketing, passenger rail,” Kerby said. “We have meetings planned with all four of these members in September, a critical time as the House will be writing the FAA reauthorization bill, setting policy for the next four years. We’ll be there representing you.”
ASTA’s battle against taxation is also continuing, according to Eben Peck, senior vice president of government and industry affairs for ASTA. While Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill this year that would have hit agencies and OTAs with new taxes, there are still proposals that “would put a lot of agents out of business overnight or force them to leave their state,” he warned.
ASTA announced several events during its global conference. Among them:
- A new event called the ASTA Maui Showcase is slated for May 11-15, 2016, at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa.
- ASTA’s next Destination Expo will take place in Seville, Spain, June 2-5, 2016.
- The next ASTA Global Convention will take place in Reno-Tahoe, Nevada, September 25-28, 2016.