Ann Chamberlin, Senior Vice President of Membership & Strategic Partnerships and the President of the ASTA Small Business Network, formerly NACTA. She is responsible for the association’s membership growth and support, chapter operations and consortia partnerships. She leads the vision for ASTA membership programs, strengthens the company through strategic partnerships and membership growth to ensure ASTA remains the top membership choice for travel advisors.
During her NACTA tenure, she and her team raised the membership criteria qualifications, rebranded the association, expanded the supplier portfolio, and strengthened the chapter system through a regionalized structure. ASTA member engagement and participation in ASTA’s many programs and events remain her main focus. Reporting directly to the President and CEO of ASTA, she works collaboratively with the staff of the American Society of Travel Advisors to ensure the success of both associations.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Ann. How are you today?
Ann Chamberlin (AC): I’m doing great, the ASTA team and I are busily preparing for ASTA’s Global Convention which is just around the corner in four weeks, followed by ASTA’s Small Business Network conference in September. We’ve been scheduling speakers and panelists and preparing some inspiring educational sessions for our attendees.
TRO: ASTA was founded in 1931 as the American Steamship and Tourist Agents Association. The industry has changed a lot since then. How have the membership numbers changed over the years?
AC: You are right, a lot has changed over the years at ASTA as far as membership and programs. During my tenure at ASTA, the pivotal turning point was when the consortia unanimously came together to support ASTA. MAST being among the first to engage with us on a membership deal to encourage membership, followed by Signature mandating membership and Virtuoso agreeing to subsidize ASTA membership. This year Travel Leaders group enrolled their owned brands in ASTA, giving a larger voice and presence in ASTA. We are also working on a new membership deal with Ensemble which is soon to be announced. Not to be outdone by the consortia, the host agencies have also given us huge support by promoting ASTA aggressively to their independent advisors. Host agencies see the value of ASTA for their members and encourage ASTA at every turn, through their conferences, email campaigns and through their own personal support of ASTA. They volunteer on our board, reserve speaking time for ASTA at their conference venues and regional shows and donate to our ASTAPAC. Another change that we made a few years back was scaling our dues based on an agencies sales volume and at the same time introduced an individual membership level for independent advisors at $199. This has been the fastest growing segment of our membership at over 2,700 independents joining us over the last several years.
TRO: Being an advocate for much of the travel industry must be a daunting task, as the entire industry has shifted with the advent of technology. What do you think are the positive aspects of this shift?
AC: The first thing that comes to mind is ASTA’s travelsense.org site. It’s a portal for consumers to connect with travel advisors. Through the consumer advocacy work ASTA has done by promoting the value of using a professional travel advisor with the consumer media, consumers are seeking to find advisors in droves! With nearly 100,000 people checking out our website to find professional travel advice, we can make these connections for them. Travel Advisors complete their profiles and consumers respond. The leads that come to advisors are lucrative, as one example one of our members received a group booking for 25 to Hawaii, and others report that receiving these valuable new clients has more then covered their membership dues in ASTA for the next several years.
Another positive aspect of technology is that it allows for advisors to travel more frequently while still being connected to their clients. The world is their classroom and they bring their learned expertise to their clients; helping them make informed decisions on their travel plans. The savviest travel advisors frequently post their travel experiences and advice on social media, which inspires people to get out there, travel, and see the world.
TRO: Partnerships are important in every industry, but they make for a vital part of the travel industry. How do you view consortia partnerships, and how they help advisors provide the best trips possible for the traveler?
AC: Our consortia partnerships are vital to the health of ASTA. Without the support of our consortia partners we would not be enjoying the strong membership growth that we have today. ASTA is trending 6% ahead in membership from one year ago, and last year we enjoyed sharp membership increases over 2017 too. Consortia provide the business and marketing tools to grow travel agency business and ASTA is there to protect the business. Together we make for a strong bond in support of the travel agency distribution channel. Travel advisors provide the best trips possible for their clients through education, learning about new supplier products and services and keeping their eye on emerging destinations and travel trends. Consortia and host agencies negotiate amenities and commission structures on behalf of their members. Clients, of course, benefit from valued-added trips that they would not normally get on their own.
TRO: You are not only the Senior Vice President of Membership & Strategic Partnerships, but you are also the President of the ASTA Small Business Network (formerly known as NACTA). How does this network help agents flourish in their endeavors?
AC: The ASTA Small Business Network (formerly NACTA) is a membership segment in ASTA tailored to the independent advisor. We provide a platform where advisors can connect with other like-minded advisors. For example, we offer a chapter network of over 60 chapters across the USA where advisors can join a local meeting or event and get critical industry updates on the work ASTA is doing to protect their business and hear about supplier’s new products and updates. Another way advisors learn is by attending our annual conference, which is taking place this year in Aurora, CO in September. Here, we provide great educational content. One session I’m excited about is the session being led by Eric Maryanov, owner of TAMS, to Fee or not to Fee. Advisors will flourish as they learn to promote their own value and charge for their knowledge and expertise. New this year, we are offering ASTAs Operational Excellence Program. This is a full-day session powered by the successful TAMS model, where advisors learn to work on their business not in their business. They will pick up ideas and tips from one another and take a very deep dive into their business operations and gain efficiencies through benchmarking data with their peers.
TRO: What are your favorite destinations for travel at the moment?
AC: That’s always a hard one to answer because the world is so vast and there are many places I still have not been to yet. I enjoy adventure, outdoors, and water; I’ve been known to travel to Alaska spontaneously as well as planned. Flying to the top of the world to Utoviak, Alaska and experiencing the polar bears in the Beaufort Sea was an experience I’ll cherish forever. http://www.northernalaska.com . Cruising French Polynesia with Paul Gauguin is among my favorite cruises and time on the island of Moorea is heaven. Since I live in Seattle, getting to Hawaii isn’t too long of a flight and Alaska Air has several flights a day, I very much enjoy swimming in the warm Maui water off the shores of Kihei, HI. It’s transformational for me, rejuvenating and therapeutic. It’s hard to get me out of the water there.
TRO: Recently, the California Assembly Bill 5 was introduced for a vote. This bill would prevent independent travel agents from remaining their own business, essentially forcing them to become employees. How is ASTA advocating for these agents, and what can others do to help get the bill amended before it is passed?
Here’s a brief timeline of this bill.
- May 29 – Passes Assembly by vote of 59-15, moved to the Senate
- July 10 – Bill passed out of Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee
- July 15-August 12 – California legislature on “recess”
- August 30 – Deadline for consideration by Appropriations Committee
- September 13 – Deadline for vote before full Senate
- Democrat “supermajority” (72%: 29-D and 11-R)
- After expected passage by full Senate, bill will go back to Assembly on concurrence (straight up or down vote)
- If voted down, bill goes to a “conference committee” to reconcile differences
- Amendments could be made as late as September
- Could get to Gov. Newsom (D) around mid-September – has until October 13 to sign or veto
- Law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020
- Peter Lobasso, ASTA’s General Counsel and Genevieve Strand, ASTA’s Director of Advocacy visited Sacramento with ASTA board members earlier this summer
- Through our grassroots portal, our California travel advisors have sent 2,401 emails to California Senators
- Through our grassroots advocacy portal, our California travel advisors have sent 404 letters to local editors
- 3 Webinars (members, consortia)
- Leadership role with CCTO
- ASTA-CCTO Day of Action on August 6th
Advocating for travel advisors at all levels of government is a core part of ASTA’s mission, and anyone who wants to be part of this unified effort should join ASTA today. If the travel advisor lives in California they should connect to our advocacy portal here:
Send a letter to your California representative and your local media outlet and make your voice heard!
TRO: How has ASTA’s membership program changed after the rebranding? Why should agents become a part of ASTA?
AC: ASTA is our industry’s national trade association. We are a not-for-profit association and we rely heavily on membership dues to operate. Joining ASTA is just the right thing to do, it shows an Advisors professionalism and support of our industry in general. In addition to receiving lucrative consumer leads, top notch educational content, and the ability to achieve the Verified Travel Advisor Designation, Advisors take great pride in being a member of ASTA. They support the work we do across all levels of government at the federal, state and local level. We advocate for advisors across the industry and before the traveling public. Frequently consumers call ASTA to verify if they are a legitimate agency. For those agencies that are ASTA members we can support and endorse them. For those travel agencies that are not a part of ASTA we can’t endorse them to the calling consumer. Membership in ASTA has changed with the recent rebrand as we have combined the ASTA Independent Advisors with the former NACTA members, combining the two has strengthened and grown this membership base and allows us to speak in one voice through the consumer channels. We no longer have to explain why join ASTA or NACTA, we are one trade association, ASTA.
TRO: Does ASTA have any big news coming up that our readers should know about?
AC: Our biggest news last year was the ASTA rebrand from Agent to Advisor and NACTA transitioning to the Small Business Network. This was a major rebrand for the industry as the term Advisor more accurately describes the vital role travel sellers play regarding travel planning for their clients. The term “agent” does not tell the whole story on their value, connections, expert advice and client advocacy. This year we are launching the ASTA Operational Excellence program which will be part of the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor curriculum. The first full-day session launches August 23rd in Fort Lauderdale in connection with our Global Connection followed by the second session at the Small Business Network conference September 29th in Colorado.
As an ASTA member, you get a profile listing on our consumer-facing website TravelSense.org. This is where travelers go to connect with ASTA travel advisors. We’re seeing a significant growth in traffic to TravelSense.org because of our ongoing consumer awareness efforts. And, we’re hearing from our members that they’re getting business leads and booking travel from TravelSense.org. We’re going to ramp up our digital advertising efforts in the coming months so we want to make sure that all travel advisors are taking advantage of this benefit through ASTA.
TRO: Ann, thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this interview.
AC: Excellent and thank you for allowing me to weigh in on ASTA and update your membership base on my insights and experience. TRO has been a longtime friend of ASTA and we value our partnership with you!