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The American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) Global Live conference officially kicked off Aug. 25, offering some 2,000 registered travel professionals access to two general sessions, several educational workshops, Q&As with top ASTA executives and more.
The opening general session featured Zane Kerby, president and CEO for ASTA, acknowledging the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the travel industry and travel advisor community, specifically. (Although 2019 was best year on record for many travel companies, most members have seen a 70% decrease in business since the outbreak.)
“The pandemic thrust ASTA’s role into the limelight; whether it’s securing government relief, pushing back on archaic and unfair industry practices or holding your work up for consumers to see, we’re on the job,” Kerby said. “And no matter what it takes to get travel and our advisor members back on track, we’ll be on the job.”
RELATED: ASTA: Survival of Travel Agencies Is Uncertain if Conditions Persist
Elaine Chao, the sitting secretary of transportation under the Trump administration, gave a short address as a featured keynote speaker; her speech represented the first time a sitting secretary of transportation has spoken at an ASTA event. Chao outlined the department’s response to COVID-19, including the distribution of 100 million facemasks to transporters, and securing $50 billion for airlines, travel advisors and contractors under the CARES Act. Advisors were mixed in their response to Chao; some wrote messages of gratitude in the platform’s chat box, and others aired frustrations about the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.
However, the key message of the opening session was one of hope. Master of ceremonies Tom Krieglstein, founder and lead facilitator of professional training company Swift Kick, urged advisors to look at 2020 not as a year that happened “to” them, but rather “for them.” He touted the importance of collaboration during this time.
An instant-message-style (IM) Q&A chat with Kerby followed the morning session, with discussion topics ranging from communicating with difficult supplier partners and ASTA’s advocacy efforts to the possibility for additional COVID-19 relief.
“I was wondering if you really see the travel agency industry getting more money from the government, like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP),” asked travel advisor Stephanie Turner during the Q&A. “Since ASTA is on Capitol Hill and speaking to both sides, what are our chances?”
Kerby wrote back saying ASTA was “perplexed” that Congress went into recess without a deal, and that he hopes that members of Congress “are being lambasted while they are at home in their districts.”
RELATED: The Travel Industry's Message for Congress: The Time to Act Is Now
“Chances for more relief are good,” Kerby added. “The president wants it prior to the election. We just need to turn up the volume on congressional members who feel like they need to see bread lines and massive disruption before taking action. It's as if they are seeing how long we can hold our breath. Completely unnecessary."
Chances for more relief are good … We just need to turn up the volume on congressional members who feel like they need to see bread lines and massive disruption before taking action.
Putting a human face on the issue is also important, Kerby added, encouraging members to put pressure on the media which will, in turn, put pressure on Congress.
Travel advisors should reach out to local television stations, newspapers and radio stations, he recommends, and tell them the effects that the government’s shutdown of travel is having on business.
Additional educational sessions included supplier/advisor video speed networking, supplier-led learning luncheons and webinars on the topics of service fees; adapting businesses for after the pandemic; dissecting credit card chargebacks; and learning about ASTA’s advocacy efforts with Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy, and Genevieve Strand, director of advocacy.
During the advocacy session, Strand highlighted the importance of travel advisor involvement.
“Your voice makes a difference,” she said. “We make it as simple and easy as possible to get involved, and the two minutes you take to send an email or contact your legislator does make a difference. We’ve seen collectively what we’ve been able to accomplish."
The two minutes you take to send an email or contact your legislator does make a difference.
Peck agreed, saying that securing additional federal relief is ASTA’s “all-consuming focus right now.”
“This is our job, but people work at ASTA and in the industry because they have a passion for the business and for the people,” he said. “We take this personally. It’s been very painful to watch what’s happened to our industry. When I lie awake at night, I think about ways I can get more relief for our members. We are going to keep fighting.”
An IM-style Q&A with Peck directly following the session reiterated the importance of reaching out to local media to secure additional federal funds, referencing the conference’s Aug. 26 session on how to work with media to get a message across, featuring Wendy Gillette of CBS.
“You never know with Congress, but if I had to bet, I'd say they come back in September ready to make a deal,” Peck wrote. “They don't want millions more layoffs right before an election; the government runs out of money on Sept. 30, and the stock market is acting as if a deal will happen.”
If I had to bet, I’d say Congress comes back in September ready to make a deal.
The afternoon’s general session wrapped up the day’s professional development events, and featured an interview from congresswoman Dina Titus from Las Vegas, words from television personality Rick Steves; a panel discussion with top executives from Virtuoso, Ensemble Travel Group, Signature Travel Network and Travel Leaders Group; and more.
Suppliers also received awards from ASTA during the last general session; notably, AmaWaterways received Partner Company of the Year, and Royal Caribbean International’s Vicki Freed received Partner Representative of the Year.
ASTA Global Live will take place through Friday, Aug. 28.
ASTA’s recently launched Letter to the Editor campaign allows travel advisors to send messages directly to their local media through ASTA’s advocacy portal.
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