ASTA kicked off its global conference this week. For the first time, the event is being held virtually due to the Covid-19 outbreak. That didn’t stop the association from putting together a successful conference.
While attending on a computer is a bit different than in-person, the quality and value of ASTA’s programming is still very much present.
ASTA Global Live kicked off officially on August 25, 2020, but pre-programming events were available on August 24. Chapter Connections and an ASTA Young Professionals Society Cheers and Chat as well as educational opportunities on cybersecurity, travel insurance and the future of travel distribution were available.
The first General Session included insight from a variety of guests, including Scott Adamski of Travel Guard Insurance, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Frank del Rio and ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby among other guests. This year’s general sessions are MC’d by Tom Krieglstein, founder and lead Facilitator, Swift Kick and the keynote address at the kick-off event was U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
The first day also included educational sessions, Q&A panels and luncheons as well as an exhibitor showcase to connect with suppliers.
Attendees had the chance to learn about the Verified Travel Advisor program during a Q&A session with ASTA director of education Michelle Mueller, and sit in on a Q&A with President and CEO Zane Kerby.
UberEats gift cards were provided for attendees for Learning Luncheons. Three options were presented by Amadeus, Hilton and Discover Puerto Rico.
Just like at a typical ASTA conference, a track with three breakout education sessions followed with presentations on topics related to a post-pandemic world, including “Adapting Your Travel Business to a Post-Pandemic World,” “The New Travel Toolbox – Dissecting Air Debit Memos and Chargebacks,” Behind the Curtain on ASTA’s Efforts to Protect Your Business and Your Bottom Line and more.
Eben Peck, Executive Vice President, advocacy, updated travel advisors on ASTA’s efforts in Washington followed by the day’s closing general session.
Matthew Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, praised ASTA for its advocacy efforts noting that this is what the industry needs during these trying times.
“We need strong industry associations, and I am so glad we have all invested time in supporting ASTA. This situation has taught us the value of the advisor relationship before, during and after travel.”
David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group echoed the sentiment.
“Advocacy is so important at a time like this. You can’t stick your head in the sand, you have to participate,” he said. “ASTA is vital to our survival.”
Leaders discussed the magnitude of the crisis, noting that one of the big clues this was going to be devastating was when the cruise industry shut down.
“Going back to last year, we were preparing members for the possibility of recession,” said Alex Sharpe, President and CEO of Signature Travel Network, noting the possibility in a drop in revenue of 20 percent. “When cruise ships stopped, it was that moment when you thought ‘this feels different.’ No one ever planned for zero activity. At that point it became unique.”
Gary Sadler, Senior Vice President of sales for Unique Vacations, inspired advisors to persevere.
“Whenever there is a challenge, we find opportunity,” he said. “Ask yourself ‘How can I prepare myself for this new normal.’”
The keynote was delivered by public television host and guidebook author Rick Steves, who provided ‘Words of Wisdom.”
“I’ve gone from tourist to traveler to pilgrim,” said Steves. “Now I’m savoring new to me experiences at home. I never cooked until this year. Now, like someone experiencing Europe for the first time, I thrill at a knife cutting through an onion. We can be inspired by our own backyards as if on the road.”
“We are in this together,” he continued. “Coming back to normal will be incremental but we are resilient. Patience is not an American forte, but lately, it’s my middle name, and when things open up again, it will spring back. My goal as a citizen is to help us beat this virus.”
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