Acknowledging the unprecedented, fast-moving series of events that are debilitating the U.S. travel trade, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) updated members and the media Monday on a variety of issues focused on injecting more capital into the industry until normal travel booking patterns return.
ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby called the current situation “surreal,” when just more than a month ago, the most critical issue the industry was discussing during the association’s annual Legislative Day was the implementation of Real ID this fall.
“It makes me long for the good old days of January, 2020,” Kerby said, calling the coronavirus pandemic “more disruptive” than the terrorist attacks of 2001. “We know you are hurting, and we are hurting with you.”
On the one-hour call, Kerby and Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president, advocacy, discussed the various bills and issues the organization is working on in the now restricted halls on Capitol Hill, including mitigating the “red tape” on Federally-backed small business loans for companies with less than $22 million in annual revenues.
The House of Representatives passed on March 14 the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which now needs to go to the Senate. The bill includes provisions to make healthcare insurance more readily available for the current emergency, as well as emergency paid leave for American workers.
Originally, ASTA was expecting the bill to be acted on by the Senate before Congress would begin working on “round 3” plans, which would incorporate a broader set of economic stimulus initiatives, including corporate tax exemptions and targeted relief for travel industry companies.
Peck now believes the two pieces of legislation could be combined into one bill, calling the rapidly changing legislative situation “unprecedented times,” and adding that “we are 100 percent engaged, working around the clock to get you relief.”
On the call, Kerby also implored travel suppliers to be as flexible as they can in both protecting travel agent customers, but also in adopting policies that protect travel agent commissions. Every dollar in a travel advisor’s bank account is critical to getting them through the current travel bans grounding travelers globally, he said.
“There is going to be life after coronavirus. Those suppliers who have been helpful, flexible, stepped up to support the travel advisor community, those are the suppliers who should be rewarded,” Kerby said. “What ASTA can do, is reward and highlight good behavior.”
Kerby also announced that currently, the association plans on hosting both ASTA’s May Premium Business Summit, May 7-9, 2020 in Austin, Texas, and the ASTA Global Convention, Aug 25-28, 2020 in Washington, D.C.
ASTA officials also spent some time on the 60-minute conference call congratulating agents for their work, being their clients trusted travel advisors. “I was heartened that after the European travel ban last week, I heard about one Michigan agency whose employees met back at their office, and worked through the night to ensure their clients got back home,” Kerby said.
Kerby also quoted a recent Travel Market Report story about long wait times dialing into Costco Travel’s call center as an example of the value travel advisors offer consumers, especially in a crisis like the one currently impacting travelers. “When you buy something as complex and personal as travel from a vending machine, that’s [the level of service] you should expect,” he said.
Later on the call, Kerby described how one of the most oft-asked questions he has received from travel advisors the last few weeks has been the ethics of encouraging clients to travel. After mentioning the lack of national testing for the virus, which adds to the confusion of just how far and wide virus will spread, Kerby directed advisors again to only quoting expert authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
This week, Kerby himself has flight reservations for a business trip to Florida, to meet with Club Med executives Wednesday morning.
Additionally, ASTA has built a COVID-19 information hub at its website, to help keep advisors and members informed. ASTA’s current plan is to host these updates weekly for the indefinite future.