Since its founding on April 20, 1931 as the American Steamship and Tourist Agents Association, ASTA has remained true to the mission outlined by its founding members. Even in the face of recent predictions of the demise of travel agents, ASTA's current initiatives fighting for travel agents and for the traveling public indicate a promising future for travel agents and for the Society.
In 1931, more than 60 agents joined an association that promised to protect and promote the mutual interests of its members, maintain a dignified code of ethics, combat unfair competition, stimulate the public's desire to travel and promote the use of ASTA members' services.
In the 1930s, when agents were booking 80 percent to 90 percent of all steamship travel, ASTA was urging ship lines to adopt agent-friendly policies and trying to persuade hotels and railroads to pay agent commissions. When war in the '40s curtailed all but essential travel, ASTA members fought for the survival of their association. In 1946, one year after its formation, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) cut agent commissions to 5 percent from 7.5 percent. ASTA was there to fight for its members. Around the same time, the Society changed its name to the American Society of Travel Agents.
In the 1950s, ASTA won a 27-year battle for rail commissions. It was in the '50s that the Society broke new ground by introducing a home-study course, the industry's first basic training tool. In the 1960s, ASTA made a lot of progress in education, holding its first School at Sea and opening seven travel schools. In 1968, when President Johnson restricted travel outside of the United States, ASTA waged the largest grassroots campaign of its history.
In the 1970s, ASTA formed several institutions that continue to benefit members today. ASTA Marketing Services, Inc. (AMSI) was established as a subsidiary of ASTA designed to help ASTA member agents get high-quality products and services at discounted prices. The ASTA Political Action Committee (ASTAPAC) was formed to lead the fight for agents' interests in the political arena.
The '70s also saw the formation of ASTA's Chapter Presidents' Council. And, the decade that saw the first rise in air commissions in 25 years, from 5 percent to 7 percent, closed with the deregulation of airlines. In the '80s, the Society continued its emphasis on education, holding Trainingfest, School on Rails, School at Sea and School on the Road.
In the 1990s, ASTA published the Travel Agent Manual. In 1995, seven major airlines capped agency commissions at $50 on domestic tickets. ASTA filed an anti-trust lawsuit that was settled out of court for $86 million. Before the end of the decade, commissions were cut or capped five more times. In 1999, ASTA secured a Justice Department investigation of five carriers' plan to launch a joint-Web site. ASTA published the Air Travelers Bill of Rights and secured Congressional endorsement of the key principles of the bill, and gained passage and funding of the Consumer Access to Travel Information Act.
In this world of rapidly changing technology and shifting alliances, ASTA has managed to stay relevant for its members. In January 2007, ASTA re-launched its brand, unveiling a new membership structure and enhanced member benefits, a new logo and its new mission: to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism.
The new ASTA brought with it a re-energized commitment to ensuring that all members receive the types of benefits that will allow them to grow their business and market share. From a redesigned Web site with added features and enhancements to global networking opportunities at events such as the International Destination Expo and ASTA’s Travel Retailing & Destination Expo, travel professionals from every spectrum of the industry see first-hand ASTA’s impact.
ASTA continually enhances its member communications and provides members tools to launch or improve their own advertising and public relations campaigns. ASTA also offers a variety of online and home-study courses for its members to use in furthering their expertise. And, with the unveiling of its Green Member program, ASTA led the travel agency industry in incorporating environmentally conscious practices into their businesses.
Today, in state after state, ASTA is actively engaged in tackling the very real threats that could negatively impact travel agents’ bottom line. When it comes to protection from anti-competitive taxes and onerous regulations, ASTA is the voice speaking out on behalf of travel agents in state capitols across the country and continuously lobbying to protect their interests. Several ASTA-endorsed pieces of legislation to protect passenger rights and end airline preemption have gone to Congress. In Texas several years ago, ASTA succeeded in passing a technical corrections bill that saved Texas travel agents thousands of dollars in taxes. More recently ASTA continues to make its voice heard in the halls of government. ASTA officials have met with DOT Secretary LaHood, providing ASTA an opportunity to share with the Secretary the association’s perspectives on key issues facing the travel and tourism industry, including trends in the air travel booking process and an array of legislative and regulatory changes facing the agency community.
ASTA also led the fight to prevent airlines from passing along merchant fees to travel agents and ultimately, their clients, and remains on the front lines on the issue of proposed worker classification legislation. ASTA also has scored numerous major victories at the state level in defeating regulations that would prove harmful to travel agents. Currently, ASTA is hard at work to ensure that airlines fully disclose their ancillary fees in all sales outlets in which they participate and has been successful in defeating onerous hotel booking fee taxes, and in the deregulation of travel insurance sales in several states.
ASTA remains on the forefront of the travel agency industry, connecting members through a variety of social media outlets as well as under the umbrella of pro-travel agent legislation and initiatives that will benefit our industry as a whole. Today, ASTA continues to maintain its position as an industry leader, constantly examining the intricate business relationships that keep the industry moving forward and sharing that knowledge for the benefit of all its members. No other travel organization contributes more to the collective institutional learning of the industry or to its members’ ongoing education than ASTA.