A New and Different ASTA
Written By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC
Travel Professional NEWS had the pleasure of attending the 2017 ASTA Global Convention right here in our hometown of San Diego, California. The event began on 8/27 and concluded on 8/29 and took place at the Sheraton Hotel & Marina down on Harbor Island. ASTA boasted a record number of attendees at 1003, which included travel agents, suppliers and guests. We were blessed with some of our great summer weather for the event, therefore being able to boast once again that we live in America’s Finest City! Our schedule only allowed us to attend one day of the event so this report will focus on that day and all that took place on Tuesday, August 29th.
Harbor Island is a lovely setting for an event and with the close proximity to the airport it makes for a perfect venue for a conference. Add to the convenience of the location the beauty of the surroundings and you have a win. There were several Education Sessions taking place in the morning and agents attending had some timely and relevant topics to choose from such as:
- Employment Law Basics and Beyond
- Gaining Your Share from the “Sharing Economy”
- Traveler Anxiety in a World of Growing Uncertainty
The Trade Show was next on the agenda from 9:45am – 11:45am. The agents had ample time to visit with the suppliers and vendors at their booths. This was day two of the Trade Show and it took place in the Grande Ballroom with an extension outside in a tented Pavilion. It is hard to say if this was planned or a result of more suppliers signing on to have booths closer to the actual event. Having managed a number of trade shows in my career, I am guessing it was a necessity due to more booths being needed. While it worked relatively well, it was a bit cumbersome to have to take a walk down stairs and through the heat to get to the tented area. It should be noted that we had record-breaking heat for San Diego that day and this too could have affected the trek outside to the next area for some agents. Some of the suppliers I spoke to in the tented are were not loving the set up as they felt perhaps some of the agents did not know they were out there. My take on it was that agents seeking information from suppliers would make the trip to gather brochures and learn all that is new with those suppliers. The Trade Show ended at 11:45 and suppliers began packing up their goods.
At the exhibit hall I was able to catch up with Jean Paugh, Owner of All About You Travel Unlimited in Rockledge, Florida. Jean has been in the travel industry since 2005 and has a very successful travel business. I remember meeting Jean when she started her business and I am so happy for her success! We chatted for a few minutes about her thoughts on the conference. “This is my second time attending and ASTA Global Convention. I attended last year in Reno, Nevada. I felt that last year’s event was a bit stronger in terms of the speakers presenting. I did however really enjoy the Opening General Session discussion between Arnold Donald and Peter Greenberg. That was enlightening and entertaining.” I asked Jean how she felt about the Trade Show and the supplier participation there and she shared, “I think there are more suppliers here then at last years conference. There are so many, I have to work hard to get to everyone I need to see.” When asked if she was an ASTA Member she shared that she is and has been asked to be on the board in her local chapter in Central Florida. She said, “It is a new chapter and I have been asked to help launch and grow the attendance at our local events, I am looking forward to it.”
At noon there were several sessions agents could attend. These were called Lunch & Learn Sessions and I took a look at several which all looked to be well attended and engaging for the audience. They were set up in rounds and lunch was served to the agents while the speakers presented. These were sponsored events by Silvercar, The Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Visit Anchorage.
The education continued on from 1:45pm – 2:45pm featuring more relevant and interesting topics such as:
- ASTA Advocacy Boot Camp
- Maximize Your Commissions Selling Premium Cruises
- The Agency Think Tank
- Enhancing the Human Experience with Technology
I spent some time in the Think Tank session where agents worked together in round tables to discuss Best Business Practices. Topics they discussed included Store Front Agents vs. Independent Contractors; New Agency Models; Agency Measures to Combat “Book Direct” and more. The room buzzed with knowledge and ideas.
Between sessions, I was able to catch up with travel professional Jill LaBarre, owner of Jill’s Great Escapes in Orlando, Florida. We spoke for a few minutes about her take on the event. We should mention that Jill was also a speaker at the event and had a sell-out crowd in her presentation. Congratulations to you Jill! Here are some thoughts that she shared with me about the event. “This is my first ASTA event that I have attended. I have to say I really enjoyed the networking opportunities and supporting the travel industry advocacy group. For my business growth opportunities I find the Travel Weekly Shows such as Cruise World and GTM to be most beneficial.
I felt it was important to support the show this year, as two people I admire greatly are strong proponents of ASTA. Lee Smolinski, Owner of OASIS and Kelly Bergin, President of OASIS, which is my host agency and most important business relationships. Both are strong advocates of ASTA as the industry’s trade association. I felt as an independent agent for OASIS, it was important that I be here. I was a bit surprised to learn there are only 533 Independent Contractor Members of ASTA in the new category for IC’s that they have created. I would have thought there would be more, but perhaps that will change in time. Hopefully more host agencies will encourage their IC’s to support our industries organization as OASIS has”
However, I felt it was important to support the show this year, as two people I admire greatly are strong proponents of ASTA. Lee Smolinski, Owner of OASIS and Kelly Bergin, President of OASIS, which is my host agency both are strong advocates of ASTA as the industry’s trade association. I felt as an independent agent for OASIS, it was important that I be here. I was a bit surprised to learn there are only 533 Independent Contractor Members of ASTA in the new category for IC’s that they have created. I would have thought there would be more, but perhaps that will change in time.”
At 3:00pm everyone gathered in the Harbor Island Ballroom for the Closing General Session. It was very well attended, so much so that I had to stand in the back of the room for the 2 ½ hour event! That will teach me to wear high heels when acting as a reporter.
The session kicked off with presentations by ASTA Executives and was emceed by Samantha Brown, World Traveler and TV Host. She was great and I enjoyed her humor and amazing passion for travel. Norwegian Cruise Line presented information on all that is new with Norwegian and showed a great video on their new ship Bliss.
Next on stage were some amazing industry leaders and mentors who shared their personal thoughts, insights and perspective on a multitude of topics primarily focused on gender and position. Colleagues and friends of mine Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO of Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection; Vicki Free, Sr. Vice President, Royal Caribbean International; Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President & Co-Owner of AMA Waterways were on stage and I loved hearing their thoughts and views on women in travel. Captain Brenda Tirshfield, a United Airlines pilot was also on the panel and was truly a favorite with her honest and enlightening comments. Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Co-President & Co-Owner of Valerie Wilson Travel was also an amazing presenter. Ann Chamberlin, Senior Vice President of Membership & Strategic Partnerships at ASTA was also on the panel and a pleasure to hear from. Samantha Brown moderated the panel and kept it lively and entertaining. The audience had an opportunity to tweet their questions to the panelists as well. It was a great panel presentation.
Following the panel Bob Duglin, Vice President, Business Development with ASTA presented awards to supplier partners. After the happy suppliers accepted their accolades there was a brief presentation by Elena Kountoura, Minister of Tourism for the Hellenic Republic sharing what ASTA can look forward to in 2018 where Greece will host the ASTA Destination Expo. After a few more awards being presented the General Session ended and everyone set off to prepare for the Closing Night ASTA Party in the Park.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Closing Night but I was there in spirit rooting for my friend Scott Koepf, SVP at Avoya Travel who sang the National Anthem at the San Diego Padres game in Petco Park. I could not have been happier for Scott and I know he shined. I was able to watch a recording on Facebook and he killed it! He has an amazing voice but is an even more amazing person…. Congrats my friend.
In summary, my thanks to ASTA for allowing us to share in the event and my congratulations for a great show! Having been to many ASTA events over the years, I have to share this was certainly one right up at the top. People keep using the term “A New and Different ASTA” when they refer to the association. I have to add to that phrase by saying “A New, Different and Better ASTA”.