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Travel Advisor Conference Concludes with the Society’s Most Prestigious Awards and Record-Breaking Funds Raised for Advocacy Efforts


Suppliers and members contributed $500,000 at the annual Advocacy Dinner, where Matthew Upchurch and Vanessa McGovern took home the top honors. 


Alexandria, VA, June 5, 2024 —The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) concluded The  Travel Advisor Conference with its annual Advocacy Dinner, where the Society celebrated their top contributors and advocacy champions.  

The annual black-tie gathering broke fundraising records. In total, the Society raised $500,000 to support ASTA’s ongoing advocacy mission and political efforts. Over 200 individuals donated during the Advocacy Dinner, plus extremely generous company contributions from Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Virtuoso.  

“I was both humbled and amazed by the generous spirit of the ASTA members, member companies and chapters, along with the outpouring of financial support of our supplier partners," said Jessie Klement, ASTA's VP of Advocacy. "Throughout the entire conference, ASTA highlighted the work that can be accomplished by a thoughtful, dedicated group of individuals with a common cause. The advocacy dinner is a culmination of those efforts. Those in attendance made this dinner one for the record books, and I could not be more grateful.” 

During the dinner, ASTA handed out two of its highest honors, the Barbara O’Hara Advocacy Award and the Paul M. Ruden Industry Ambassador Award. 

Vanessa McGovern, co-founder and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer of Gifted Travel Network (GTN) won the Barbara O’Hara Advocacy Award for going above and beyond the call of duty in her support for ASTA’s advocacy initiatives, grassroots campaigns, and ASTAPAC fundraising.  

“I'm beyond humbled to be recognized,” said Vanessa. “The industry greats who have been honored before me have served as inspiration for my work around advocacy. I love our industry and it is a pleasure and privilege to serve travel advisors and advocate for our profession.” 

The Paul M. Ruden Industry Ambassador Award is given annually to the ASTA member who best represents our industry as an ambassador to multiple audiences – the government, the broader travel industry and the traveling public. Named after longtime ASTA staff member and industry titan Paul Ruden, the award is inspired by Paul’s decades-long record of service in support of the travel agency industry. Matthew Upchurch, CEO and Chairman of Virtuoso, was the recipient of this honor from Paul Ruden himself at last week’s dinner.  

“I've always believed ASTA’s most important role is advocacy, and I’ve seen ASTA become an effective voice for our profession and one I’m happy to support,” said Matthew. “The original founding agencies of Virtuoso changed my life, and their professionalism inspired me to champion the role of trusted advisors. Virtuoso members have led the way in transforming the profession into a respected role validated by travelers and partners alike. As an organization, we believe ‘Together Is Better’ and it is in that vein that I accept this award on behalf of all Virtuosos and wish great success to all our ASTA family.” 

The chapter advocacy award was given to the ASTA Greater Houston Chapter for achieving the highest level of chapter advocacy participation among all ASTA chapters.  

For more information on ASTA’s advocacy efforts, visit




Rebranded in 2018 as the American Society of Travel Advisors, ASTA is the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public. Its members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally-based members, ASTA’s history of industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information about the Society, visit our mission statement.  




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