Advocacy in the time of COVID


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First of all, thank you to my friend and collaborator Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg for introducing me and this column a few weeks ago!

At a recent ASTA conference, one of the speakers stressed the importance of “showing off your work”. When you, as an advisor, work seamlessly with your clients – when they see all the work you do to get them to and from where they want to go – and they’ll appreciate what you do all the more.

That’s what I’m going to try to do here – to show you, especially non-members and not particularly active members – all the work we’ve done in Washington, DC to promote and defend your businesses and our part of the travel industry more broadly.

That job changed dramatically in March 2020. Government advocacy has always been a central part of ASTA’s mission – and we had a winning streak in the late 2010s, ranging from independent contractor rules to California the elimination of sales tax expansion proposals in several states. But overnight it went from important to almost life and death, at least in terms of the survival of our member companies.

From those fateful days, we faced lockdowns, border closures and a complete halt to cruises – all due to the government’s response to COVID-19. And when the crisis hit, ASTA and its members responded – on a scale that has eclipsed our previous lobbying campaigns. Since the start of COVID, we have hosted more than 450 congressional meetings, a number that includes those held on ASTA Legislative Day 2021 in May. We ran 28 separate local campaigns at the federal and state levels, which resulted in 30,000 people emailing and calling elected officials, or 120,000 advocacy contacts. Compare that to our previous record of 2,900 people participating in the California Assembly Bill 5 campaign in 2019 (see above).

Through these efforts, ASTA members gained access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), unemployment benefits – expanded to include independent contractors for the first time in history – and other programs to help them get through. the trauma of COVID-19. At the same time, we have been working with our supplier partners to restart the cruise and prevent the worst of the proposed COVID restrictions from passing.

While we are seeing green shoots of late, we still have a long way to go. We recently conducted a member survey, which showed that average agency revenue levels are always down 71% from the same period in 2019. And due to the dreaded ‘commission lag’, there will be a substantial gap between a return in travel bookings and a corresponding return in corporate income – a delay expected average of eight months.

So we are fighting, both at the federal level and at the state level. From the federal government, the support we need really falls into two buckets. First, additional relief for hard-hit businesses like ours. Our preferred approach is the SAVE Bill to include travel agencies in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and an ERTC Restoration / Extension, which the recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Bill infuriatingly repealed for the fourth quarter of 2021. (You can weigh in with Congress on both of these issues on our website.) The Senate will soon consider a social spending “reconciliation” bill of more than $ 1,000 billion, which will offer the opportunity to correct the ERTC, while the House and Senate small business committees would prepare targeted aid bills for small businesses, a chance to insert SAVE law or something like that.

Second, we need international travel to get back on a trajectory towards 2019 levels. We are seeing a lot of momentum here, but there is still a lot of work, including everything from harmonizing international entry restrictions to Changing the CDC’s inbound testing rule so that vaccinated Americans do not run the risk of being stranded abroad to the continued development of interoperable digital health systems.

You, dear readers, can help in these struggles. We are not an obscure group in Washington that uses the dark arts of lobbying to get what we want. We are the national trade association for travel agencies and consultants – we are you. If you are not an ASTA member, consider signing up today. It must be said that the work we do benefits all travel professionals, not just those who are ASTA members, and while we are extremely proud to have grown our membership network to 17,000, it is tens of thousands remain who do not participate. Beyond membership, you can participate in our grassroots advocacy campaigns at ASTA.org/Advocacy and can also contribute to our Political Action Committee (“ASTAPAC”) at ASTA.org/Donate.

As the great Ben Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang on to each other or, most certainly, we will all be hanged separately. With this Godforsaken pandemic moving in the rearview mirror, I say – let’s stick together.

Future columns will focus more on the day-to-day of what we do on Capitol Hill, but I wanted to use the former to set the stage in terms of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Thanks for coming for the ride!

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