5 Takeaways from ASTA’s Global Convention for the Hosted Advisor
Steph and I had a chance to attend ASTA’s 2022 Global Convention (AGC) but Steph was unceremoniously struck with a nasty case of the VID. This dashed her hopes of an industry and family reunion. I thought maybe she was playing hooky so she could spend some family reunion time with her sister, Bridget, but a half dozen positive COVID tests put the kibosh on that theory. Sigh. (But aren't they stinkin' cute?)
In 2016 ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) introduced an IC (independent contractor) membership level in order to bring hosted and independent advisors into the fold of their trade association. So where do they stand now, in 2022, with independent advisor participation and advocacy? Well, that’s what I’m here to chat about!
If you, like Steph, weren’t able to make the convention because . . .
A.) You were also got struck with the VID
B.) You had a scheduling conflict and weren’t able to clone yourself to be in two places at once
C.) Have didn't hear about it
. . . I am here to put an end to your FOMO. Here’s a quick ASTA 2022 AGC recap with hosted and independent advisors in mind! Here's a few shortcuts you can take (if you must!)
⭐️ HAR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS: ⭐️
1. Hosted & Independent Travel Advisors Are Central to ASTA’s Growth
Last year, ASTA announced a goal of reaching 20,000 advisors by 2025 (20k by 2025 . . . has a nice ring to it!). Striving to hit this mark, Marc Casto, ASTA’s board chair and Flight Centre's president of leisure in the Americas, announced that ASTA is ahead of its ambitious goal. During ASTA’s press conference, Casto cited a 20% membership growth, reaching 17,000 members at the end of 2021.
We represent over 17,000 active ASTA members, and independent travel advisors make up almost half of the entire membership. - Erika Richter
Host agency partnerships with ASTA have been critical to this growth. Independent advisor membership increased 50% from 4,000 in 2020 to 6,000 in 2021, a bump that contributed to the lion's share of ASTA’s year-long growth.
Erika Richter, Vice President of Communications for ASTA commented on the segment’s growing numbers, “We have almost 6k independent travel advisors right now. We’re actively processing renewals and hope to surpass 7k independent travel advisor members by the end of 2022. We represent over 17,000 active ASTA members, and independent travel advisors make up almost half of the entire membership.
With strong host agency partnerships, ASTA’s initiatives have been critical in supporting hosted and independent advisors, and the host industry’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed!
2. ASTA Recognizes Host Agencies’ Advocacy Efforts
ICs have always taken their business seriously, but since their revenue is less than a traditional agency with employees, they needed another [membership] category. - Betsy Geiser
Betsy Geiser, VP of Uniglobe Travel Center commented on ASTA’s increasing awareness of ICs' contributions. “It wasn’t too long ago that ASTA membership was for agency membership only. Host Agencies met with and explained to ASTA leadership how membership could grow if another category for Independent Contractors existed. ICs have always taken their business seriously, but since their revenue is less than a traditional agency with employees, they needed another category. We are so excited that many ICs took advantage of this opportunity, but we weren’t surprised. I have no doubt that by 2025 20K or more ICs will be ASTA members.”
Since (and before) then, host agencies have played a critical role in connecting independent advisors with the advocacy work of their representative trade association.
Host agencies have been creative in ways they’ve encouraged ASTA engagement among their membership base, and ASTA recognizes these efforts with their Host Agency of the Year and Barbara O’Hara Advocacy award.
The Host Agency of the Year Award
We love to see so many familiar host agencies receive recognition for bolstering the hosted advisor industry. In 2022, Nexion Travel Group and Travel Planners International received the Host Agency of the year award. Jenn Lee, Travel Planners Internationa’s VP of Industry Engagement and Support accepted the award for TPI. Jackie Friedman, President of Nexion Travel Group, accepted the award on behalf of the host agency.
Friedman commented on how Nexion has been working to increase engagement with ASTA among Nexion's members. “We encourage our advisors to join ASTA and engage with their local chapters . . . We always invite an ASTA executive to our annual conference and introduced an option for our advisors to have their ASTA membership dues taken out of monthly commissions.”
The Barbara O’Hara Advocacy Award
The Barbara O’Hara Advocacy Award recognizes a member’s advocacy work for the advisor community on the state or federal level. This award has gone to many host agency leaders in the past, and 2022 was no different.
This year, Jenn Lee of TPI and Betsy Geiser, VP of Uniglobe Travel Center, each received a Barbara O’Hara Advocacy Award.
Host industry advocacy was particularly critical when travel advisors were fighting for an exemption from California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). Without an exemption, its passage would have essentially gutted the host travel advisor model in California (and possibly set a precedent for scrutiny in other states).
The award offers a look through a tiny keyhole at larger ongoing advocacy efforts. In the past few years alone other advocacy successes that have impacted hosted advisors in particular included:
- Advocating to expand CARES Act protection to expand payment protection program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and unemployment benefits to include independent contractors.
- Fighting for a continuation of expanded unemployment benefits for independent contractors (and furloughed travel advisor employees).
ASTA's advocacy award recognized the host leaderships' contributions to expanding and amplifying these advocacy efforts and in increasing participation among independent hosted advisors.
Here's what ASTA is working on more recently for hosted and independent advisors.
Intermission: This Also Happened at AGC
I need to take a moment to show you the sheer whimsy of ASTA's Alice in Wonderland-themed gala:
HAR in Wonderland!
Now back to our regular programming.
3. Current Advocacy Efforts that Impact Hosted Advisors
More recently, ASTA leveraged its grassroots portal to petition the current administration to remove its inbound COVID testing rule for reentry into the United States.
One of the advocacy issues "du jour" during last month's convention is keeping a pulse on the Department of Transportation's (DOT's) proposed rule that could possibly put travel advisors on the hook for airline refunds (you can read more details about the issue and ASTA's stance in Travel Weekly).
The good news from ASTA is the DOT's rule, as written (in a freaking 115-page document!), would only impact agencies if they are the merchant of record. What this means is that 99.99999999% of hosted advisors will not be impacted by the DOT's proposed rule on airline refunds.
But ASTA makes it easy to help the advisor this rule does impact. Here's what their advocacy portal looks like, below! Click on the image to submit your public comment (it takes less than two minutes).
Perhaps the even better news for advisors is that ASTA sat through an all-day DOT hearing on a 116-pg. "Notice of Public Rule Making" to better understand the issue of airline refunds so you don't have to. 😉
Better yet, ASTA's grassroots portal makes it ridiculously easy to submit a public comment on the rule. This makes it easy to share your voice in support of advisors who would be impacted by this rule. They provide the messaging for you so all you need to do is input your info and add a personal story (which goes a long way!) if you care to.
3 other Ways you get involved in Industry advocacy w/ ASTA as a member
ASTA's grassroots portal is the best way to get involved as a non-member. I love it because you don't need to be a in C-suite position to help support the industry.
Here's a few other ways you can get even MORE involved that don't necessarily include massive time or financial commitments:
- Vote for board members who amplify the issues most important to you (you can sign up for HAR's Candidate Chat reminders for details when the next election comes around).
- Participate in ASTA's annual Legislative Day
- Get involved with a local ASTA chapter (and if you don't see one near you, start one!)
4. ASTA Builds a Bridge Between Advisors and Consumers
ASTA is enhancing its site as a consumer-facing resource to educate travelers about the critical role advsors play in planning safe memorable trips.
Okay, so this isn't an update that only impacts hosted advisors, but it's still significant! ASTA is increasing its efforts to be recognized by travel consumers. In September, ASTA launched its new website. In addition to being a thing of beauty and user-friendly, ASTA is enhancing its site as a consumer-facing resource to educate travelers about the critical role advisors play in planning safe and memorable trips.
As ASTA brand awareness gains traction among consumers, their travel advisor leads resource (Travel Sense) and membership directory will likely become more robust over time. For ASTA members, this means there's another way for travelers to find you and understand the value of your services.
5. ASTA Credo Normalizes Charging Professional Fees
ASTA travel advisors often charge clients professional fees, to reflect the value of the unique services they provide to their clients. We support this as a best practice. –ASTA's Credo
The last update I wanted to include for hosted advisors is that ASTA developed a new credo. While the member credo focuses on tenets of continued professional development, global recognition, and adhering to ethical standards, the one I really want to draw attention to is their last one.
The fourth point of their credo states, "ASTA travel advisors often charge clients professional fees, to reflect the value of the unique services they provide to their clients. We support this as a best practice."
Here at HAR, we devote a decent amount of website real estate to fee advocacy and fee information on the how-tos of charging a fee. Since travel advisor fees is a sometimes-divisive issue, having ASTA come out in public support of normalizing fees is a pretty big deal. (Especially since ASTA has the ear of the travel consumer.)
While it impacts all advisors, it's a big one for hosted advisors as this segment had been slower to adopt fees in the past when compared to independently-accredited advisors. As this gap begins to close over time, ASTA's support of charging fees goes a long way. (You can find more details in our travel agent fee reports.)
Until Next Time . . .
This summary is really just the tip of the iceberg. I didn't mention that issues of sustainability took center stage, how ASTA has a travel advisor of the year award, or even touch on the multitude of education sessions! Sigh so much going on. But this gives you a taste of what ASTA's been up to in terms of industry advocacy and acknowledging the contributions of the hosted industry.
Travel advisors are to their clients as ASTA is to the advisor. Just like advisors advocate for their clients so travelers can stress less during their vacation, ASTA advocates on The Hill for advisors so they can sleep easier with clear guidance on when and how, and when to act on issues that impact hosted advisors and the travel industry at large. The more hosted advisors that get involved with ASTA, the better represented you'll be!
I'd love to hear your convention insights and experiences in the comments below!