Ann Chamberlin, the President of the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) and is responsible for the overall operations of NACTA. This includes member and supplier sales, revenue management, meetings and events and membership service. Ann leads the overall vision for NACTA, strengthens the company through strategic partnerships and membership growth to ensure NACTA remains the top membership choice for travel consultants. Last July, Chamberlin also added the title of Senior Vice President, Operations for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of ASTA, focusing on membership growth and support, chapter operations, and consortia partnerships.
Ann formerly worked as Director of National Account Sales/Premium Preferred with Holland America Line before accepting the position of Vice President of Member Sales and Service for Virtuoso where she worked for nine years. Joining NACTA in January 2012 as Vice President, she was promoted to President of the association in the fall of 2013. During her tenure, she and her team have raised the membership criteria qualifications, rebranded the association, expanded the supplier portfolio, and strengthened the chapter system through a regionalized structure. Reporting directly to the President and CEO of ASTA, she works collaboratively with the American Society of Travel Agents to ensure the success of both associations.
In our interview below, we asked Ann about the changes in both NACTA and ASTA since the announcement of her new role in July of 2016, as well as working with Bob Duglin, named Vice President of Business Development for both NACTA and ASTA in July of 2016.
Travel Research Online (TRO): I’m sure these past few months since the announcement of your new role and responsibilities with ASTA has been a whirlwind! Can you tell us how you have hit the ground running?
Ann Chamberlin (AC): Since NACTA is owned by ASTA, both Bob and I have naturally been involved with the ASTA team. Taking on the additional responsibilities helped aligned the associations and further define the role of each association. We hit the ground running as we both were immersed in ASTA’s Global Convention and our first obligation was to ensure a successful event was experienced by members and suppliers. The NACTA 30th anniversary conference followed in November and we incorporated ASTA speakers and topics into the program of events which lead to many NACTA members joining ASTA.
TRO: For any new agents who may not be familiar with the two organizations, could you tell us about the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) and the American Society for Travel Agents (ASTA), and what their goals are for travel agents and the travel industry?
AC: The National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA), was established in 1986 as the original association with a mission to represent the interests of the individual travel consultant, and now has expanded to all professional sellers of travel. NACTA host travel agencies and suppliers support this growing distribution channel.
NACTA represents the interest of the independent Travel Consultant and the greater Travel Consultant community. The association’s role is to focus on the development of the travel consultant through its educational programs designed for our valued members. In addition, offering many member benefits such as health care insurance, discounts on office supplies and more through our affiliate program. Our overall objective is to enhance and ensure the success of the professional travel consultant.
ASTA is often referred to as the “new ASTA” because we are much more inclusive in nature and represent all sizes and types of travel agencies. ASTA is more inclusive as the Chapter program will be growing with ten new chapters being added this year and with three Area Directors in place for Chapter Presidents to network with in order to grow their own chapter programs. What’s really taking off is the ASTA IC program which launched in 2016, making membership affordable for independent agents at a rate of only $199. Host Agencies have been very supportive of encouraging IC’s to join ASTA- their national trade association and consortia partnerships have never been stronger within ASTA, especially Signature with 100% of their members belonging and Virtuoso with over 80% of their members now belonging to ASTA. It’s a new ASTA and an association travel agents are proud to belong to. ASTA members tell me our hidden GEM is TravelSense.org, which helps travel agents build THEIR business and client list with lucrative consumer leads. All professional sellers of travel should be members of ASTA.
TRO: How do you feel this move towards mingling staff from one organization into the ranks of another will help with travel agent outreach?
AC: Bob and I work very well together, and we understand the needs of both associations are very different. We’ve always been part of the ASTA team and the senior leadership team has been inclusive of both associations. We work hard to ensure both brands are clearly defined and understood by the membership. ASTA has many brands including NACTA, Core, Premium, and Corporate Advisory Council membership. Consortia participation in ASTA has been a key driver in helping travel agents understand the valuing of belonging to their National Travel Association. Working for the success of both associations helps to better define what ASTA and NACTA each offers its members. For example, NACTA has a strong community, chapter, and educational program, and ASTA has a lucrative consumer lead generation program for its members with TravelSense.org. ASTA defends and protects travel agency business through government affairs and promotes the value of using a travel agent through consumer awareness campaigns.
TRO: The idea for the shake-up in staff came from ASTA’s CEO, Zane Kerby. Kerby has been revitalizing ASTA since he took the helm 3 years ago. How did you feel when you first heard his idea of pulling in leadership from NACTA to ASTA? Was there any flicker of fear or just complete confidence?
AC: Zane Kerby is a strong leader and looks at decisions from all angles. He has a keen ability to place people where they can grow in a position while making positive contributions to the company. Assembling a strong senior leadership team to debate the issues and arrive at general consensus is what Zane does well. Putting our members and suppliers needs first is what drives my determination to succeed in my dual roles. I was delighted when Zane offered me the additional role of SVP, Operations for ASTA.
TRO: In the past few months since the announcement, how has your new partnership together impacted the two organizations? Have there been any major changes underway?
AC: The ASTA Chapter program comes to mind as one of the biggest changes for ASTA in 2016. Formerly ASTA Chapters elected their Presidents and Chapter Boards, and now this has changed to an appointment process where ASTA Area Directors and staff evaluate and appoint ASTA Chapter Presidents through a streamlined application and approval process. ASTA is more inclusive this way and able to grow its chapter system with a goal of adding 10 new chapters this year. Under this change, an ASTA Chapter would need a President, two ASTA members willing to serve on the chapter board, and a minimum of 7 ASTA members in the Chapter. Having experience with the NACTA chapter program expansion has helped us to learn from mistakes and improve the chapter experience to be more inclusive.
TRO: The first time the new combined team is was put through their paces was at ASTA’s largest annual event, the ASTA Global Convention (AGC). Can you tell us about how these internal changes impacted the event?
AC: Bob and I took a more active role in ASTA’s Global Convention, both in planning and execution. We both managed portions of the educational content showcased during the convention and had speaking roles recognizing our valued members and suppliers. We recognized NACTA members at AGC with their own reception and supported the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) who held their annual meeting in conjunction with the AGC.
Bob has many years of experience on the retail travel agent side, and I have many years of experience working on the supplier and consortia side of the business. Drawing on our experience in a combined way along with the rest of the ASTA team helps keep things well-rounded and considerate of those impacted.
TRO: The next event coming up for both organizations is ASTA’s Destination Expo, slated to be held in Nairobi, Kenya in February of 2017. Can you tell us more about that and what roles both of you will be playing?
AC: Bob has exceptional experience in planning international educational programs with a balance of class room, tradeshow, and hands-on FAM experiences. Kenya will be a one-of-a-kind experience for attendees. My role has been helping to spread the word about this year’s ASTA Destination Expo along with the offers Bob has negotiated for attending travel agents.
TRO: After the Destination Expo in February will be NACTA’s 2017 Annual Conference held in Anchorage, Alaska. This year it looks like NACTA is focusing on both the hidden wonders of Alaska and the cruising industry. Can you tell us about what’s in store for the event and what potential NACTA saw in Alaska as the focal point?
AC: Here is the line-up of ASTA and NACTA events for 2017:
ASTA Destination Expo, Nairobi, Kenya, February 24-26, 2017 Kenya Registration
ASTA Premium Business Summit, Washington DC, June 5-6, 2017
ASTA Legislative Day, Washington DC, June 7, 2017 Leg Day Website
ASTA / NACTA Bahamas Showcase, June 21-24, 2017 Bahamas Website
ASTA Global Convention, San Diego, August 26 – 29, 2017 Advanced Registration
NACTA Annual Conference, Anchorage, AK, September 13 – 16, 2017 Alaska Registration
Alaska has always been one of my favorite destinations, and it was my goal to share the experience with as many travel consultants as possible by hosting our annual NACTA conference in the Great Land for 2017. The natural beauty, wildlife, outdoor excursions, and experiences are life changing. It was important to me that we hold the conference “in season” so the travel consultants could experience the same attractions as their clients would potential select. With my many Alaskan supplier contacts, I wanted to involve them in the program and bring the business to their doorstep. NACTA travel consultants are small business entrepreneurs and love the idea of finding out about and supporting other suppliers that are small business operators. It was a terrific fit to host the NACTA conference in Anchorage, Alaska and we already have well over 200 registered to attend the September 2017 conference.
TRO: With this new sharing of talent and knowledge between the two organizations, what do you believe is on the horizon for both NACTA and ASTA?
AC: The travel industry will see a stronger, more unified chapter system with ASTA and NACTA going forward. This is driven by our desire to be more inclusive and by the supplier need to have more unique face time with travel sellers who they normally don’t meet at the larger conferences and events. Independent Travel Consultants including NACTA members see the advantage in belonging to and supporting ASTA as their own trade association. Host Agencies have been and will continue to be active in encouraging their members to join ASTA. It shows their level of commitment and professionalism to the industry.