Hundreds of travel agents bring the voice of the traveler to Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C., June 7, 2017- Together with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), agency executives and industry advocates converge in Washington D.C. for the inaugural Capitol Summit, hosted at the historic Watergate Hotel.
Today, over 100 travel agents from across the country will take their message to Capitol Hill, sharing ASTA’s stance on critical issues facing the corporate and leisure travel economy. Travel industry most powerful players flex their political muscle, with over 100 House and Senate Congressional meetings are scheduled.
Travel agents – online, “brick and mortar” and many hybrid business models in between – play a critical role in the broader travel and tourism industry. Agents are responsible for the sale of the majority of airline tickets in the U.S., selling over 430,000 air tickets per day, and are the primary distributors of cruises and tours. In 2015, travel agents processed 155 million trips representing $148 billion of total travel sales, including $88 billion worth of air travel (64 percent of the market); $11 billion in cruises (68 percent) and $12 billion worth of tour packages (66 percent).
“It’s really important for legislators to meet the names and faces of the people who put them in office and are watching how they vote on travel issues,” said Zane Kerby, President & CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents “By showing them who we are, who we employ, and that we are paying attention the government will understand that travel agents watch out for the traveling public. We’re going to fight onerous legislation that is anti-consumer or that impacts our agents business in a negative way”.
Top Legislative Priorities for Today’s Meetings
A major concern for our industry is that the FAA reauthorization process will bring with it proposals to add to the list of mandated disclosures travel agents are required to make to consumers when selling air travel. Travel agents will ask congress to consider ways to lessen the impact of new disclosures on the travel agency community.
According to our most recent member survey, 62 percent of our members’ interactions with their clients take place over the phone or face-to-face, so a substantial portion of these travel agency transactions will be particularly impacted under any new, expanded disclosure regime. To get an idea of the magnitude of these compliance costs, when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was developing its rules in 2008 for collecting Secure Flight data, for every phone transaction, it came up with an estimated economic impact to travel agents of approximately $20 million per year, or $232 million over 10 years.
There are ways to mitigate the impact on travel agents of current and proposed consumer disclosures – most of which have to do with issues entirely outside of the agent’s control. These range from exempting agents altogether to exempting phone call and face-to-face transactions (where disclosures are particularly disruptive) to utilizing the Small Business Administration’s size standards to “carve out” small businesses to creating a unified disclosure regime where consumers can be referred to a single website covering relevant DOT rules and airline policies.
Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act (H.R. 2515)
While the Obama Administration’s 2015 proposal to expand eligibility for overtime pay is on hold, it caused ASTA and many other business groups to reexamine a long-standing exemption in current law that would mitigate the impact of such changes – Section 7(i) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Retail or Service Establishment (RSE) exemption.
The Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act (H.R. 2515), introduced on May 18 by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and cosponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), would simply strike travel agencies from a DOL regulatory “blacklist”, allowing them to claim the exemption if they meet the appropriate statutory criteria. This is a matter of basic fairness – H.R. 2515 will treat travel agents like any other retail business. At the same time, it will help preserve 100,000 travel agency jobs by protecting agency owners against audits and lawsuits while giving them the flexibility to better serve their clients in this dynamic and hyper-competitive industry.
Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 351/S. 1287)
While the Obama Administration’s actions on Cuba were a step in the right direction, general tourist travel remains banned under current law. Regardless of the outcome of the Trump Administration’s review of Cuba policy, we believe it is incumbent upon Congress to do away with the “travel ban” once and for all, providing Americans the freedom to travel across the globe without restriction and allowing them to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values abroad. Lifting the travel ban will also bring follow-on economic benefits to Cuba’s neighbors and the travel industry that serves them by sparking demand for new passenger routes, tour operations, and travel agent services. All told, ASTA estimates at least two million additional Americans would visit Cuba by 2019 if there were to be a full lifting of travel restrictions in 2017.
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 351/S. 1287) introduced in the House by Reps. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) and in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would repeal all provisions of law relating to U.S. residents’ travel to Cuba in their entirety, saying simply that “the President may not prohibit or otherwise regulate, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents.”
ASTA kicked off today’s Congressional meetings with a reception at the U.S. Capitol last evening in which the 2017 Global Travel Advocate Award was presented to Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) for their leadership on the Travel and Tourism Caucus and her dedication to the travel industry.
ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally based members, it is the leading global advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public. ASTA’s history of travel industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information, visit ASTA.org.
ASTA’s sister association, The National Association of Career Travel Agents, represents a professional community of independent travel agents ready to assist the traveling public.