ASTA Gears Up for Legislative Day on Capitol Hill

by Maria Lenhart

ASTA is inviting members to participate in Legislative Day 2014, a day-long event on May 13 in Washington, D.C. The day will provide opportunities for travel agents to speak directly to policymakers and their staff.

The event marks the first time ASTA has held Legislative Day since 2007.

Visibility in D.C.
“The main goal is not necessarily legislative, but for agents to develop a relationship with Congress and to be visible to Congress,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s vice president of government affairs.

“We’re competing with a lot of groups who are on Capitol Hill all the time. We have to make sure we have a place at the table and this is a good way to do it.”

Educational sessions
The program will kick off with morning educational sessions at the Marriott Renaissance D.C.

Peck said the sessions will address the need for travel agents to become advocates for the industry at both federal and state government levels as well as providing training in advocacy.

A panel of presenters will include Capitol Hill staffers, ASTA headquarters staff and government relations executives from other travel organizations.

The panel will be followed by a background briefing on ASTA’s key federal policy issues, such as airline ancillary fees, aviation security reform, independent contractors and travel facilitation.

“We’re currently deciding which issues to focus on, but most likely they will include DOT proposals on regulations and the facilitation of international travel,” Peck said.

Meet with your lawmakers
In the afternoon, participating agents will have the chance to meet face-to-face with their elected U.S. Senators, Representatives or staff during scheduled appointments on Capitol Hill.

“We will set up meetings for each attendee, so they can make their case directly,” said Peck.

Having an impact
Among agents planning to participate in Legislative Day is Gloria Stock Mickelson, senior manager of education and training for Travel Leaders Franchise Group in Plimoth, Minn., and president of the Upper Midwest ASTA Chapter.

Last year Stock Mickelson was part of an ASTA/GBTA delegation that went before the Minnesota state legislature to lobby against a sales tax proposal that would have had a potentially crippling impact on agencies. The proposal was not enacted.

“That experience really opened my eyes on the process of legislation. I found the involvement very meaningful,” she said. “It showed me that one little person sitting out there in Minnesota can have an impact. I learned that legislators really do care what the voters think.”

Getting personal
Stock Mickelson said she is looking forward to the chance to meet with Congressional representatives, something she believes will help make lawmakers aware of the fact that “agents have not gone away – we’re alive and well.”

Among her most memorable moments during last year’s lobbying effort in Minnesota was a meeting with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“I found that Klobuchar really wanted to talk with us and that she wanted to know about the travel industry,” Stock Mickelson said. “She said her last vacation had not gone well – and admitted she did not use a travel agent. So it makes it personal.”

Exposure to issues
The decision to re-start ASTA Legislative Day reflects the organization’s move toward a stronger advocacy position on governmental issues, according to Peck.

“In my mind, one of the benefits of ASTA membership is that you are exposed to issues that directly affect your business,” he said. “We hope more agents will join ASTA and get involved.”

More information on ASTA’s Legislative Day and how to register is available from ASTA.

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