Increased visibility with consumers, expanded training and networking opportunities, and greater awareness of agency-related issues are among the benefits that the American Society of Travel Advisors says are in store for members of the rebranded ASTA Small Business Network.
In August, the trade group announced a name change and rebranding for the former National Association of Career Travel Agents, which it acquired back in 2000. It also announced plans to streamline operations and bring the 32-year-old organization of independent and home-based agents closer into the fold.
While Small Business Network members will retain the benefits they had in the past, they will gain additional ones, including participation in the parent organization’s soon-to-be revamped consumer-facing website, Travelsense.org, said Ann Chamberlin, who is both president of the ASTA Small Business Network and senior vice president of membership, marketing and strategic partnerships for ASTA.
“What NACTA offered members was a static online profile page that they could use to showcase themselves, but that included no consumer initiative,” she said. “With Travelsense, they have access to consumer leads generated by the site. We currently anticipate over 100,000 consumers a month coming to the site looking for travel advisors.”
Among members who consider this a major perk is Lynda Phillippi, owner of Renaissance Travel & Events in Portland, Oregon, and president of the ASTA Greater Portland Chapter, which includes both organizations.
“I really like the fact that I can log onto Travelsense and be connected with someone looking for a Portland agent with a certain specialty,” she said. “It’s a huge advantage for smaller independents to be able to grow our business in this way.”
Members of the Small Business Network will now be kept in the loop about the parent organization’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill as well as on changes to state and local regulations with impact on agency operations, Chamberlin said.
“They will receive alerts and updates about developments and have greater access to ASTA training and education programs, including on compliance,” she said. “Small business people need to be aware of the rules and the disclosures they must make to their clients or they can face stiff fines. They aren’t necessarily getting this through their consortia or host agency.”
For those who join both organizations (approximately 140 of the 1,600 Small Business Network members have dual membership), there will be a price break. Instead of $199 in annual dues for ASTA and $165 for NACTA, the cost of dual membership is now $199.
Not everyone is totally bullish bout the tighter melding of the two organizations, however. It’s important that there not be total absorption of the Small Business Network into the parent organization, said Ken Kimi, owner of A Touch Above Travel Services and a Small Business Network member.
“I believe the needs are different,” Kimi said. “NACTA members are typically one- or two-person shops. They have a need to network, share best practices with each other and have access to training and various travel events. The larger agencies who are typically members of ASTA have less of a need, as they are typically members of consortia and already have access to these events.”
Name, Chapter Changes
Why the name change to ASTA Small Business Network? When the parent organization changed its own name in August by replacing “agents” with “advisors,” it also determined that the National Association of Career Travel Agents needed a similar update, according to Chamberlin.
“After a lot of consumer research on what’s in a name, we found that the term ‘travel agent’ doesn’t really do justice to all the planning and complexity of today’s travel business,” she said. “There was nothing in the NACTA acronym that was appealing to consumers. Plus, we wanted the two organizations to be more consistent.”
Greater integration of the two organizations is also happening at the chapter level, but it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach, according to Chamberlin.
“We’ve combined our two chapter operations and all of the former NACTA chapter directors are now classified as ASTA chapter presidents,” she said. “Some chapters such as those in Seattle and Portland are hybrid chapters with members from both organizations. Other places such as Arizona and South Florida will continue to have both a Small Business Network chapter and an ASTA chapter. Members have a choice of which meeting they want to attend—it’s a flexible system.”
By adding the Small Business Network chapters to the fold, the parent organization has greatly increased its number of chapters and possibilities for further growth, Chamberlin added.
“A few years ago ASTA had just 26 chapters, but now we have 70 across the U.S.,” she said. “By combining, we can identify new leaders and grow on the local level. It also gives independent agents more chances to get out of their attends, attend meetings and do more face-to-face networking.”
Both organizations will continue to hold their own annual conventions, with the ASTA Small Business Network 2019 scheduled to meet Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Aurora, Colorado, and the ASTA Global Convention 2019 scheduled for Aug. 25-29 in Fort Lauderdale.
Phillippi sees advantages for both organizations in joining forces, leading to greater efficiency and compensation for what the other lacks.
“It’s a logistical nightmare to administer two groups and it’s a way to consolidate marketing funds as well,” she said. “NACTA doesn’t really have a budget for consumer outreach and the resources for lobbying, but ASTA does. So together we’re one big happy family.”
With independent and home-based agents the fastest growing segment of the industry, she also believes closer ties are necessary if the parent organization is to stay in tune with the current agency environment.
“When ASTA started going after premium memberships—the host agencies—they realized how many independent contractors are out there and the need to bring the two groups together,” she said. “The writing was on the wall. Brick and mortar is fading. You have to advocate for travel advisors as they are, not as they were.”