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28 Sep, 2009

PATA New Business Plan Hopes To Stop Membership Slide

Hangzhou, China — The membership of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) was holding an extraordinary session here this past weekend to approve a revolutionary business plan for 2010-2012 designed to replace its elitist, top-down structure with a grassroots approach focussing on its rapidly diminishing ranks of small- and medium-sized members.

Seeking to “get the basics right,” the PATA plan is designed to help the association retain and hopefully expand its once-extensive membership base by providing them with “relevance and support (and) a mix of guidance, leadership, proactivity and stature.” In addition, the plan proposes an internal management overhaul to make it more transparent, more responsive and less bogged down by bureaucracy and administrative processes.

PATA CEO Greg Duffell says the future survival of PATA is stake. “It is still of major concern that the Association’s overall membership numbers continue to decline year after year. For PATA to survive, this must be halted and turned around with all haste.”

In a refreshing display of long-overdue transparency, the business plan admits that since the “halcyon days of 1998, when the Association boasted 1,666 members with a combined dues revenue base of $1.55 million,” membership has plunged to 735, with the greatest fallout being among the “individual private sector members who have felt the full economic force of the current crises.”

However, because this category of members has a lower fee base, the impact on total revenues has been less. So far this year, member numbers have shown an attrition rate of 28%, but revenues have fallen by 14%, the plan says.

“ The issue appears to be that while average revenue per member is rising, the number of actual dues-paying members is on the wane. This is neither desired nor sustainable for an association largely dependent upon those dues to fund programmes.”

Hired precisely to bring about change, Mr. Duffell over the past five months sought input for the Business Plan from past member surveys, past and current PATA members, PATA staff and academia, industry commentators, the business community and the travel & tourism sector. He says the plan will create “one PATA — a properly functioning and networked Association (which) will prove to be of real and lasting value.”

Noting that the radical changes under way at both the global and industry level “will become accepted as a normal, rather than an unusual, state of affairs” PATA now faces the “compelling business imperative to re-align itself in terms of how it interacts with its own members (internal), the industry and the world at large (external).”

The business plan provides for the following core reformative components:

a)  Relevance. Ensuring that PATA remains relevant, even as that relevance changes rapidly across the industry and within the Membership, is a high priority.

b)  Re-alignment. By creating a path of least resistance through the PATA matrix of Members, Boards and Management, communication is significantly improved both up and down the line. This will allow better leveraging of the enormous pool of membership talent, knowledge and experience.

c)  Focus. Alongside “doing the right thing”, PATA needs to “do things right”. This will mean bringing “specific skills to bear on specific issues with a focus on creating business opportunities.”

d)  Revitalisation. Social media networks have long existed in PATA, says the business plan, they were just called Chapters. Today the Chapter network “is sorely in need of support, recognition, respect and empowerment.” Revitalising them “will deliver benefits right across the Association.”

e)  Action. “Without it we have nothing; but it must be action that is consistent with what members want (relevance) and draws on the energy and enthusiasm of a revitalised global network.” Action will be possible if the planned alignments are approved, says the business plan.

Putting in a place a structure to make the organisation run more efficiently will require changes to the bylaws and commensurate internal adjustments amongst PATA management and staff. Although a whole new structure of boards and committees is recommended to provide policy input and ensure good governance oversight on the finances, the real priority is to deliver membership value.

It says that over the years, PATA has made “little substantive changes or additions” in the membership benefits it offers, which “has resulted in a significant erosion of relevance” for its members.

“ It is imperative that PATA moves away from such a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality, and begins to create tailor-made benefits packages with absolute value and relevance for each and every category. Furthermore, these packages need to be continuously re-evaluated and improved/updated where necessary.”

A key strategy will be the creation of business opportunities for members, specifically those which “have longevity and are difficult or impossible for competitors to copy.”

This involves arranging suitable contact points for member-to-member and member-to-non-member meetings/discussions, such as through a PATA Member online portal. This could also generate a potential revenue stream for PATA which envisages receiving a commission/fee for each opportunity or transaction that is generated.

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