ASTA board chair Marc Casto on why the Society now endorses agency fees: Travel Weekly

During ASTA’s Global Convention last month, the Society introduced a new credo for members that officially endorses travel advisors charging professional fees. Retail editor Jamie Biesiada caught up with board chair Marc Casto, also Flight Centre’s president of leisure in the Americas, to talk about the endorsement.

Marc Casto

Q: You’re officially encouraging advisors to charge fees. Why?

A: First and foremost, we needed to update our credo as to what we stand for and who we are as an organization as well as who we are as members of the same organization. It was really critical to lay that out, that we are professionals. That we should be not just seen by our clients and our suppliers as them, but we also have to behave as them. Part of that is also the remuneration system that is put in place: Professionals warrant charging professional fees. We changed our name from the American Society of Travel Agents sometime back to the American Society of Travel Advisors, and that is reflective of the fact that we’re not just in the middle of the transaction, that we are actually a provider of service and of value, too.

Q: There have been proponents of charging fees for years. Why is the endorsement coming now?

A: I wouldn’t read anything into the timing other than this is the culmination of a large series of work. Now, part of that, though, is we have been very focused on membership growth. Our target as an organization is 20,000 members by 2025. We’re also, at the same time, being very clear with this credo, saying “members of a professional organization.” Not everyone is a travel advisor. We expect those who live by this credo, who live by our code of ethics, those are the individuals who will be the best members of this organization. Ultimately, we believe that the membership has to stand for something.

Q: What are some common fee structures that you’ve heard are working for advisors? There are a number of models out there.

A: There are quite a number of models. They can be anything from a per-transaction fee to an hourly consulting fee to another per-unit economic fee, and that might be for refunds, exchanges, hotel bookings, fees related to online booking tools, retainer fees.

We’re not weighing in as to what fees should be charged when and how much. That is absolutely out of our remit, out of our interests. But we’re more focused on: professional advisors should be charging professional fees.

Q: What arguments do you hear from advisors against charging fees, and what would you say to them?

A: The arguments are generally of a concern about how it will be received by clients, that the clients aren’t ready for it. That they haven’t been charged those fees in the past, so this is a difficult conversation to have. My response would be, this is a necessary conversation to have, and people are willing to pay for it; they have been for quite some time. Ultimately, if you want to be received as professional, you need to establish yourself as such. This is not a hobby. This is a lifelong engagement.

Q: Do you think we’ll get to a place where the majority of advisors are charging fees?

A: I think we’re very rapidly moving in that direction. There will always be some who stand out or feel like they’re more competitive not charging fees, and that’s ultimately their decision. But as an industry norm, I think we’ll very rapidly be there, if for no other reason than the pandemic really instilled the necessity of having our revenue streams not tied exclusively to commission payments. 

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