Having joined the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) in 2015, Mark Meader is responsible for advocating on behalf of agencies, travel advisors and consumer communities with travel suppliers, technology providers, other trade associations, coalitions and various government entities. Mark is also the driving force behind the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor Certification program, as well as the highly rated educational content at annual ASTA events fostering agency growth and learning worldwide. He promotes and defends the agency community ensuring the travel advisor’s voice is heard clearly and the advisor is well represented throughout the industry. Mark also serves on the Board of Directors of the WTAAA – the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance – where he is Chairman – an organization facilitating the exchange of ideas and information to the agency community across the globe.
A travel industry expert with experience around the globe in the agency, GDS, airline and travel association communities, Mark served previously as Vice President, Business Development at the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) and has firsthand knowledge of the travel industry from his time at American Airlines, the Sabre Corporation where he was a senior executive based in the U.S. as well as in both Europe and Asia-Pacific. Also, at United Airlines, Mark worked on various aspects of their merger and integration with Continental Airlines. He began his travel industry career as an outside sales advisor at a travel agency in the Boston area.
Travel is Mark’s passion. When not focused on industry concerns and education facing the agency community and overall industry, you’ll find him plotting and planning his next travel adventure to a new part of the world he’s yet to explore.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Mark. How’s it going?
Mark Meader (MM): 2019 has truly flown by! Its hard to believe we’re in the final month of the year, but it’s exciting times with travel advisors and ASTA on the future as we ready for 2020.
TRO: You’ve been with ASTA since 2015. What do you think has been one of the major challenges to the agent community in that time?
MM: Since joining the association in 2015, I’ve seen that speaking with a single voice through ASTA the agency community has evolved to one with a powerful impact both at the grass roots level – with advisors as an extension of ASTA – and from the power magnified by advisors alongside ASTA through the advocacy work we do here every day. This successfully met challenge coupled with the challenge to move past a world where the mere existence of a travel advisor seemed surprising to some has been a challenge we’ve successfully mitigated. We’re excited about and motivated by the renewed recognition of advisor value and trust!
TRO: How has ASTA handled this challenge, and your responsibilities within the solution?
MM: Whether capitalizing on the grass roots efforts mentioned or pushing industry suppliers to recognize the value of advisors, we’ve had significant success in multiple sectors of the industry. Major hotel companies, airlines, cruise lines and others, more than ever see the value of the advisor. Most recognize they can’t be successful without the valued advisor at their side. It’s hard to ignore the fact that 83 percent of travel agency sales are booked through an ASTA agency. An earlier goal to tout the fact that agencies and advisors exist and play a significant role in travel has now morphed to show and expound upon the unique value an ASTA advisor brings to both the traveler and the supplier. Much of this has been accomplished through our expert government and industry advocacy in addition to our educational efforts exemplified by highly rated ASTA events and the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor Certification program, both components of our educational focus.
TRO: You started your travel industry career as an advisor in an agency, then moving to a position with American Airlines later. What are the most important lessons you learned along the way that prepared you for Industry Affairs & Education?
MM: Persevere, never give up, keep and grow the passion, don’t just hear – listen and learn.
TRO: What is your personal top 5 list of destinations at the moment?
MM: I’ve been so fortunate in my career to have traveled to so many parts of the world, this is a very difficult question for me to answer. Having said that, I just returned from a WTAAA (World Travel Agents Associations Alliance) board meeting where I serve as Chair, coupled with a speaking engagement in Seville, Spain. While I was also in Seville several years ago, it remains a fantastic city and certainly a top five destination for me at the moment. Exploring new villages in Tuscany, a museum in Rome or sipping a café au lait al fresco at a Parisian café remains high on my list. Lastly, I’m about to head to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro and Iguassu Falls – less than a week away – for a long awaited holiday break. So, these are at the top of my lengthy, ever-changing list of favorite destinations – or soon to be experienced – as well.
TRO: The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor Certification program teaches the advisor about knowledge, professionalism, and ethics within the industry. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
MM: The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program lets the travel industry and – very importantly – the consumer know that the advisor is one of unparalleled knowledge, professionalism, and has ethical boundaries beyond reproach. The program has been uniquely designed to provide a higher level of verifiable professional knowledge to the advisor and it proves to the world an advisor’s great proficiency and dedication. The nine initial courses making up the program are unique and not readily available elsewhere. They are not only important to enhancing every travel advisor’s competency, but help let the traveling public know the advisor is a trusted, ethical professional regardless of agency size, leisure vs. corporate focus, or location. The nine initial courses range from public speaking, to legal and law, to marketing, sales, to regulatory compliance and more.
To recertify, which graduates must do every two years in order to maintain their certification, advisors are required to complete two additional courses. Recertification course topics will range from accounting, to debit memos, to global stewardship, social media and more.
Most importantly, ASTA Verified Travel Advisor Certification brings advisors closer to new customers and business by listing the certified advisor first when advisors are displayed who meet the traveler’s search criteria on TravelSense.org, ASTA’s consumer facing website. TravelSense.org is where leisure travelers pick their travel passions and leave the rest to an expert advisor!
TRO: What should travel advisors know about ASTA’s mission to defend and advocate for them, and how can they get involved in this advocation?
MM: ASTA’s mission is simple: to promote and defend the travel advisor community.
With well over 12,000 members, we are our nation’s leading trade association serving as the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public at all levels of government, within the travel industry and before the traveling public. The ASTA brand is synonymous with trust.
Travel Advisors are encouraged to get involved by:
- Joining ASTA – ASTA.org/Join
- Engaging on our Advocacy Efforts – ASTA.org/Advocacy
- Engaging at ASTA Events – ASTA.org/Events
- Giving to ASTAPAC (ASTA’s Political Action Committee) – ASTA.org/Donate
TRO: Does ASTA get involved in the current talks about sustainable travel that seem to be becoming more prevalent throughout the entire industry?
MM: We absolutely do get involved, in fact you’ll see that a key ASTA Verified Travel Advisor recertification course is titled Global Stewardship and Responsible Travel – a topic important to ASTA, our members and the traveling public globally. ASTA is also a proud signatory to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. This commits ASTA and its members to a fundamental frame of reference for responsible and sustainable tourism with a set of principles designed to guide key players in tourism development. To date, in addition to ASTA, over 500 companies and associations from 73 countries have committed to the Code.
TRO: Does ASTA have any big announcements or plans for the near future that our readers should know about?
MM: Yes, if you haven’t heard, ASTA has just announced and made available a new health insurance program – a highly sought-after member-only benefit. Coverage at favorable rates will first be available in 39 states with more states to be added later and will be available to both individuals and small business owners and their families, including ASTA-member independent contractors. In addition to health insurance, members will also be able to purchase other types of insurance coverage through the plan, such as disability insurance, life insurance and Medicare supplements. For more details on this new program, see ASTA Health Insurance.
TRO: Mark, thank you for your time. We wish you the best.
MM: It’s been my pleasure! I wish you, our community of travel advisors and all your readers a happy, prosperous and successful 2020!