ACTA at 40
The industry’s voice – past, present and future
For those of you old enough to cast your mind back 40 years, you’ll remember that the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) was born at a time when the Canadian travel industry was looking to establish its own identity.
Back in 1977, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) represented agents here and for many, that didn’t always sit well for a range of reasons – the most obvious being that it was a US-based organization that didn’t always reflect the views and service the needs of the Canadian agency community.
The long and short of it is that Canadian agents came to the conclusion that the time was right for them to band together and create a uniquely Canadian association for retailers and the result was ACTA.
Now, while the association has dealt with many, many, many different issues over the past four decades, ACTA’s current president, Wendy Paradis captured the essence of what the association has been all about, observing that what has been true in the past and what continues to make ACTA relevant in the present is that it has, is and will continue to be the single, strong voice that speaks for travel agents across Canada.
“Even as the industry has changed, this idea of bringing travel agencies together, so that we could speak with one strong voice, has certainly been the thread that connects the past and the present,” Paradis observed during a recent conversation with Canadian Travel Press.
Paradis, a former travel agent herself, is quick to point out that she’s experienced the effectiveness of the association first- hand as a member, pointing out that ACTA has the ability to work with politicians at both the provincial and federal levels to address a wide range of travel and tourism issues.
“ACTA really has had the ability to open doors with those stakeholders – whether that was with government or industry partners – and I think that that rings through even more so today,” she said.
In fact, ACTA’s president recently met with federal minister of transport, Marc Garneau to discuss the government’s proposed Air Passenger Bill of Rights and provide him with the retail travel industry’s views on the legislation.
Paradis also noted that: “I think that the past rings through today in [ACTA] really connecting industry and bringing them together to share best practice … You know the industry has gone through a lot … and ACTA has played a strong role in all of those issues [it has had to deal with].”
A passionate advocate
With its national team based in Mississauga and representatives across the country, Paradis explains that “not only do we have that holistic, what’s-good-for-the-country approach, but [we] really understand the regional needs.”
Paradis, who’s been ACTA’s president for just over a year now, told CTP that: “What I’m so happy about is how passionate the ACTA team is. They really come to work every day motivated to help travel agencies. There’s a real value about wanting to make a difference and improve things for travel agencies. I think that that is a key characteristic of the association and the regional councils [we work with] throughout the country are just as passionate.”
In fact, a couple of years ago, ACTA did some strategic planning that has really helped it to focus its passion on four pillars that have become its mantra – Advocate, Educate, Promote and Connect – and which speak to the kind of value that agents are looking for from ACTA.
“In the future,” Paradis observes, “we really need to continue to focus on what our members value and also anticipate future trends.”
And in a blindingly competitive world where its members need to be laser-focused on running their business, she said that ACTA stands in to watch out for trends and issues that their members might not be aware of because they’re so busy.
As an example, she pointed to the work ACTA is doing in Ontario, Quebec and BC on travel industry legislation in those provinces as but one example of ACTA looking out for its members, interests.
Paradis told CTP: “I think that in the future, I really see [ACTA] continuing to focus on some of those key issues that not only have a financial impact on travel agencies in their overall health, but on their operations and administration. I see advocacy – today and in the future – being one of the number one reasons that ACTA is relevant and vibrant.”
All about education
Along with advocacy, Paradis talked about ACTA’s focus on education and professionalism for the agency community.
In 2017, ACTA’s president said that the association’s webinars on issues like fraud, PCI compliance and the independent contractor relationship have sold out.
“In the future, we’re really [going to be] focused on what is it that we really need to do to help our members from an education perspective … and we seem to be really resonating with some of the topics this year – which I’m really, really thrilled about.”
Another side of ACTA’s educational activities is convincing educators – at all levels – that the travel industry offers a “viable” and “vibrant” career path for young people.
“As ACTA, we’re stepping in to show educators all of the different careers there are available in the travel industry. We’re working very, very closely with them, and we’re also providing educational tools to newcomers to the industry – whether it is their first career or their second career or it’s a supplement to what they’re already doing – to make sure that we do have those tools, that we have the certification programs in place, so that we remain a professional industry. And I certainly see this being even more important in the future than it was five years ago,” Paradis explained.
Promoting the value of travel agents is another pillar that ACTA has made part of its strategy, ensuring that governments, consumers, industry partners and the mass media understand what agents do.
From participating in consumer shows to talking to politicians and government officials to educating the daily media on the role of retailers, Paradis makes it clear that ACTA has made great strides in getting the message out about the value of using a professional travel agent.
Asked how ACTA has changed over the years, Paradis told CTP: “We’ve had to become more nimble. From an association perspective, we’ve needed to really be in tune with what’s going to make a difference to our members.”
As Paradis sees it, the world is a noisy place, and while ACTA would like to focus on the hundreds of issues that are percolating around the world today, “it’s really up to us to try and stay away from all of that noise and focus on the things that are going to make a real difference to our members.”
Tell me why?
So why should agents join ACTA?
Well, as Paradis sees it, the number one reason is so that the industry has a strong voice to represent retailers’ interests to government – both national and regional.
“As a not-for-profit trade association, we can open more doors or get into more meetings with key decision makers because we are the trade association. I think that to insure that their voice is heard within that messaging it is critical that travel agencies be part of their trade association, so that we can actually really impact and make it better for travel agencies.”
She also pointed out that another reason to join is that ACTA can lead and coordinate member activities – on issues such as fraud and developing fraud tips and tools – and we can work on those issues on a national basis. So, I think that really leading and coordinating key activities is a real key reason to be part of the association.”
Paradis continues: “And then I think the third [reason] is education. This idea that we are a vibrant industry. That we are a viable career. That we communicate that message and work with key educators on a strategic basis. And [that we] also insure that we have national tools in place around standards of professionalism and education, so that we are professional and seen to be a professional industry to the consumer and all of those key stakeholders.”
So what’s left to ask? Well, how about:
Where would agents be if there was no ACTA?
“If there was no ACTA ,” Paradis responds, “I think that the travel agency community would be less effective in getting important messages to key stakeholders. There would be less coordination on a national level and the industry would not have the strong voice they have with ACTA today.”
So stay tuned as ACTA begins its next 40 years …