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ASTA President and Chief Executive Officer

Regarding SBN: Why is it important to have an association for independent travel agents?
SBN has grown and evolved over the years as the leading association catering to independent contractors.

There are particular needs independent agents have because of their work structure, and having a community with like-minded business owners is a great resource. I think that's why SBN is strong and continues to grow.

What are the differences between SBN and ASTA—and where do they align?
ASTA, SBN's parent company, influences the entire agency community—from independent contractors to large businesses—whereas SBN focuses solely on delivering benefits to the independent agent.

Because of ASTA's reputation and resources, we were able to work with congress on a bipartisan bill. The Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, would remove travel agencies from the list of establishments barred from using the overtime exemption.

Without an umbrella organization like ASTA, work like this would not be done. Every agent should belong to ASTA. What's heartening to me is that over the years, there has been more cross-pollination at our meetings and events. There are great things we can all learn from each other.

What's in the future for SBN?
One of the great services we can provide business owners is an understanding of how healthy their business is. We started a benchmarking group at the last SBN conference, and it's been popular. We want to make that group more robust and drive it through the entire SBN membership.

As always, we'll continue to provide educational resources and destination training for SBN agents. With so much information readily available to consumers, agents have to deliver more than just product information and focus on building strong ties with suppliers and clients—and SBN will provide opportunities for agents to build relationships with local suppliers worldwide.

What should people know about SBN's role and relationship with suppliers?
SBN welcomes supplier members and is trying to facilitate more business between suppliers and agents. It's vital we serve as a platform where buyers and sellers can form relationships.

What are some of the benefits ASTA shares with SBN members?
Because of ASTA's size and resources, we're able to raise consumer awareness for agents—like we do through TravelSense.org. Not only can SBN members attend ASTA meetings at the member price, but SBN members also qualify for the ASTA's lowest membership price. I hope to see everyone in Anchorage at SBN's 2017 Annual Conference and in San Diego for the ASTA Global convention—we have great speakers lined up!

Written by Cassie Westrate.