Norwegian’s ASTA Donation Is Aimed at Growing Travel’s Most Important Distribution System

Last week, Norwegian Cruise Line, which recently announced it would pay commission on non-commissionable fares next year, announced it was doubling down on its investment in the agency distribution channel with a $250,000 into ASTA’s advisor recruitment and training programs.

This week, TMR spoke with ASTA’s Zane Kerby about the donation and ASTA’s plan to tackle the ongoing labor crisis in the travel advisor segment.

Kerby told TMR that the idea of this kind of move started during a conversation with Signature’s Alex Sharpe about two months ago, a conversation that was focused on how the travel industry needs to find new talent now.

“There are real choke points in the industry,” Kerby said, mentioning labor shortages in almost every corner of the industry, from pilots to front desk workers and travel advisors. “We batted that around and we thought that we needed to start at first with just travel advisors.”

The conversation was moved forward when Sharpe, during talks with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Harry Sommer and Frank Del Rio, pitched them on a public awareness campaign that would not only boost the trade’s public profile but help “demystify” the profession to potential entrants.

The idea is to put the travel advisor profession front and center not just for consumers who aren’t booking through advisors yet, but for those who are looking for a new career and are excited by the idea of working in travel.

“We are not in the public conscious the way we need to be,” Kerby said. “We actually have a much better story to tell than others in the industry. We have lots of young people, lots of second-career folks who are complex problem solvers. You can come here, learn the system, and have a fantastic life,” Kerby said.

“We want them, we want to bring them in and nourish them, and help them build their careers.”

Norwegian “caught that vision” immediately, Kerby said. Norwegian is one of many cruise lines that are constantly bringing on more and more capacity, meaning more and more cabins to fill. For that reason, having a strong, innovative, and replenished pool of advisors is only going to be more critical for Norwegian and others.

“Suppliers benefit from a healthy travel distribution system, but Norwegian asked for very little in return. They’ve been extraordinarily generous and they haven’t asked for much. They’re a proud partner of ASTA,” Kerby said.

While cruise lines have always lent a hand during ASTAPAC’s fundraising efforts, including several $100,000 donations this past August, Norwegian’s donation, at $250,000, is the single largest donation from a cruise line to ASTA. The money, as previously reported will go toward tackling that recruitment challenge.

While ASTA has done things like this in the past, including an advertisement on PBS affiliate stations that was underwritten by Silversea Cruises, Kerby told TMR that the donation is something that hasn’t ever happened before.

“I think it’s fairly unique – the size and the scope of it is fairly new. We have done other things with folks in the past, but this is going to allow us to do some things that we’ve never done,” he said.

The plan is for ASTA to use the donation to further enhance its web presence, which underwent a full overhaul earlier this fall, making it seamless for new talent to access the essential education and training resources on offer. Additionally, the investment will allow for a series of robust consumer-facing digital advertisements, distributed through social media and targeted search that leads directly to the Society’s Becoming a Travel Advisor resource guide.

Kerby said ASTA will continue to try to innovate to bring new advisors into the industry and the hope is that Norwegian’s donation will set the standard for other suppliers to support the trade’s outreach to new entrants.

“I honestly think that from conversations that I’ve had, I think that this is going to be one of many,” Kerby said.  “We’re just scratching the surface here.”

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