The last few years for segments across the industry have been difficult, and while some have recovered quicker than others, the survival of the travel industry was boosted by the work that industry associations did during the pandemic.
Last week, during the opening day of the New York Travel and Adventure Show, members of three vital travel industry associations took the stage to talk about that work, and their collaboration, during the last handful of years, highlighting work that travel advisors need to be aware of.
“COVID was such a shock to the system, we really had no choice but to work together or we would have gone out of business,” Eben Peck, vice president of advocacy for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) said. “It has been a shared trauma that we all have gone through over the past few years, but it has brought us together.”
ASTA was one of the organizations that lead the charge for travel advisors since the onset of the pandemic. Through its lobbying efforts, it was able to secure vital financial lifelines for so many travel advisors and travel agencies, limiting the damage that the pandemic could have potentially done when the world was forced to close.
Still, ASTA’s role was amplified through its collaboration with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the association that represents not only 50,000 advisors, but also cruise lines and other cruise-adjacent stakeholders, including ports around the world.
“We represent travel advisors, we represent cruise lines, and we represent the suppliers who represent cruise lines,” CLIA president and CEO Kelly Craighead told attendees on Friday.
“We try to influence how the US government makes decisions - our ability to mobilize and activate you as a community was probably the best part of collaboration during the pandemic,” she said.
CLIA and ASTA partnered on a number of initiatives aimed at restoring revenue for travel and travel advisors over the past few years. That includes pressuring government officials in the U.S. and Canada to allow ships to sail once the pandemic was relatively under control.
It also includes pressuring the U.S. government to exempt large cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act, a maritime law that prevented Alaska sailings from the U.S. even as Caribbean sailings restarted.
It also includes pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lower its cruise ship warning that was at the highest level despite a lot of evidence that it shouldn’t be there.
If advisors think about the major milestones for the broader travel trade over the past three years—the inclusion of agency owners in the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program, the restart of the cruise industry, just to name a few—ASTA, and CLIA, most likely had a hand in it.
For the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), the relationship with travel advisors is a little less direct. USTOA’s membership doesn’t include advisors, though that could change down the line. Instead, USTOA represents a sizeable portion of the tour operator market in North America.
But that doesn’t mean that the work USTOA has done is all the less vital for the trade.
“In March of 2020, I personally reached out to the eight largest travel associations in our country and asked them to meet me face to face in Washington D.C.,” USTOA president Terry Dale said. “I felt we didn't know what was coming down the road.”
“We came together. We talked about the importance of collaboration and commitment to each other to associations, just to reinforce that we are here for each other and we are stronger together.”
“The most gratifying thing for me going through this was to see and observe what my colleagues have done,” he added.
Dale added that USTOA does have “aspirations” of directly supporting travel advisors just like CLIA and ASTA, but in the meantime, it does support ASTA through other work. That includes a travel advisor-centric training program that was launched six years ago and other work that indirectly supports the trade.
“We are the newbie and we have a lot of catching up to do,” Dale said. “Two-thirds of all of our bookings come through the distribution systems. This is going to grow. We think we can do more. We want to do more.”
For advisors new or old to the industry, the bottom line is that joining a trade association allows you to be involved in issues that directly impact your business and your bottom line. Simply put, according to Peck.
“It’s important to think a little bit about why trade associations were formed in the first place,” he said. “It’s a network of private businesses that have problems they can't solve on their own. It’s a best practice in this industry and any industry, frankly.”