Jenn has over ten years of experience in the execution of successful business to business events and marketing campaigns. She joined the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) in March 2017 as the Director of Marketing Programs.
In her role, she is responsible for supporting ASTA’s initiatives by driving the promotion of events, membership, and education. Before joining ASTA, Jenn worked at Choice Hotels HQ in Rockville, MD where she supported the Global Sales team with B2B industry events, as well as, developed marketing promotions for TMCs.
Jenn’s passion for travel traces back to when she spent 1.5 years teaching English in South Korea. During her time overseas, she gained an overwhelming love for the travel industry, and all that encompasses it. Jenn received a BS in Communications and Marketing from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. She currently resides in Washington, DC.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Jenn. How is your 2020 so far?
Jenn Whitney (JW): This year has been great so far! The beginning of a new year is always exciting as you refocus on priorities. I look forward to seeing what 2020 has in store!
TRO: Your passion for travel and the industry started when you were teaching English as a second language (ESL or TESL) in South Korea. Was there a particular moment during this time which opened your eyes to the amazing world of travel?
JW: I got bit by the travel bug rather early, even before moving overseas. Growing up, my Mom would always tell me her stories of living abroad as an exchange student in Belgium, and I knew I wanted to have the chance to experience something of the same one day. I was able to fulfill that craving by moving to South Korea. While it was pretty intimidating to make the move there, I quickly adapted by immersing myself in the culture and making it a point to travel to a new part of the country every weekend.
When I came back to the States, I knew I wanted to find a job working in the travel industry to come capacity. I was sold on the industry after my time working with hotels. And, once I transitioned to a much larger scale of the industry here at ASTA, I now know I want to continue my career in this industry.
TRO: We recently interviewed Peter Lobasso, and he was telling us a bit about the health insurance plans that ASTA now offers. I’m sure agents are excited about the opportunity of having a bit more security in life. Can you let our agents know where they can find information on signing up for this program?
JW: Of course! The response to this new benefit has been overwhelmingly positive, with some reporting savings of up to 50% and as much as $500 per month from their current health plan. For more information, advisors can visit www.ASTA.org/HealthInsurance.
TRO: Marketing is a field that seems to be consistently in evolution, considering social media and technology’s almost weekly update. What is your basic strategy, or mode of operation, for getting the word out to advisors through all of these channels?
JW: Digital marketing is where it’s at these days and having information at the palm of your audience is where you need to be.
At ASTA, we have a pretty robust email marketing strategy. It’s one of the most effective ways to reach our members. We have a lot of great benefits and messages to share; so, within our strategy, we do a lot of segmentation. Segmenting and creating audiences with different messaging helps to funnel your communication easier and not over-saturate inboxes.
In 2020, we’ll be expanding our digital footprint through advertising and building on our social strategy.
Lastly, I can’t forget the WOMM! Yes, word of mouth marketing is still a channel not to be overlooked. We have over 55 active U.S. chapters that help us spread the word on a local level.
TRO: The promotion of education is important in the travel industry, as knowledge is the key to exceling in any field. What programs and classes does ASTA offer for helping advisors excel?
JW: I agree! It’s important to stay current with trends, and it’s never too late to learn something. We have several educational resources for all types of learners and professionals in the industry.
The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program encompasses all aspects of being a travel advisor and boosts advisors with the confidence to sell all types of travel. The nine-course program touches upon the entire business of selling travel from regulatory compliance, to marketing, to ethics. And, with this being a recertification program, advisors can lookout for new courses to elevate their knowledge through geography, media training, professional fees, and more. We’re also excited to announce ASTA Proud Partner Marriott International as a new sponsor of this program.
If you’re looking for product or destination-specific education, we host several webinars a month. These webinars are a complimentary benefit to ASTA members.
If virtual learning isn’t your thing, our in-person events are for you! Our annual Global Convention (Aug 25-28 in Washington, DC) is where we bring all facets of our educational programming together. Whether you’re new to the industry or looking for a refresh on a skill, we’ve got you covered with our multitude of educational offerings from marketing, social media, selling tips, ethics, and destination expertise.
Additionally, we offer opportunities to explore the destinations your clients are asking about through events like ASTA Destination Expo, taking place December 3-6, 2020 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and our Educational Journeys, known to many as Familiarization Trips (FAMs). Some upcoming destinations include Italy, Ukraine, and Romania.
Advisors can learn more about our in-person events at www.ASTA.org/Events.
TRO: What are your go-to destinations for travel these days?
JW: Oh, there are so many to choose! I’ve been fortunate to have been able to travel to so many beautiful places. Every year, a group of my friends and I explore a new international destination. We’ve been to many of my bucket list places like Italy, Paris, London, and Spain. However, I would say my top three favorite places that I’m dying to go back to would be Switzerland, Belgium, and Portugal.
TRO: ASTA fought for amendments made to California AB 5, which would have essentially set a precedent against advisors having the option of staying a true independent contractor. Travel advisors are now exempt. Does ASTA have its attention on any other upcoming issues that the agent should know about?
JW: With our annual Legislative Day approaching on February 3-4, we’re bringing two legislative issues to Capitol Hill. One is an extension to the REAL ID deadline set for October 1, 2020. Unless things change, as many as 500,000 travelers per week could be turned away at airport security. The other issue we’ll be lobbying is the Modern Worker Empowerment Act (H.R. 4069), which we’re asking for support from legislation to give agency owners and independent contractors (I.C.s) the legal clarity they need to avoid misclassification – and the risk of lawsuits, audits, and fines.
We’re also keeping our eyes out for any states who may be following in the footsteps of California’s AB-5.
TRO: Business-to-business relations are a vital element of the travel industry. How do you view these relationships, and help foster them?
JW: Having healthy and meaningful relationships should be the core of every business. Without the support of one another, you’re closing the opportunity to grow your business in ways you never thought you could.
The relationships you have should be mutually beneficial, and forming one can sometimes take time and patience. Not everyone is going to high-five you at first pitch. Just keeping focusing on how you can work together, listen, and don’t give up. Relationships can transform into partnerships and that a strength stronger than just an exchange of contracts.
TRO: Does ASTA have any big news or announcements in the near future that our readers should know about?
JW: We do! Last summer, we asked consumers to send us their “worst vacation” stories, and in turn, one lucky winner would get a ‘vacation re-do’ planned by an ASTA verified travel advisor. Last week we unveiled the latest chapter of our Vacation Do Over consumer campaign, which showcases our winners and their personalized itinerary. Advisors can learn more at https://www.travelsense.org/vacationdoover! We’ll be announcing plans for our 2020 campaign in the coming months.
We’re also going to be relaunching our Becoming a Travel Advisor course this year. We see the need in our industry to grow by attracting new advisors, so we want help to elevate that opportunity by providing an all-encompassing course to steer them in the right direction. We’re pleased to announce that ASTA Proud Partner American Airlines is the sponsor of this course for 2020. Stay tuned for more!
TRO: Jenn, thank you so much for joining us today.
JW: Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure.