For the last 18 months, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has focused on the task of securing financial support for its members during what many consider to be the worst crisis in the industry’s history.
This week, with COVID-19 protocols including mask requirements and liability waivers in place, just under 1,000 people, including advisors from almost all 50 states, gathered in Chicago to show support for ASTA’s mission going forward.
“We consider this a fantastic success as we slowly emerge from the COVID lockdowns,” Marc Casto, president Leisure Americas at Flight Centre Travel Group and new chairman of ASTA’s Executive Committee said on Tuesday.
“There’s clearly much to be done, clearly lots of ground to made up, but we’re obviously on the upward slope of the pandemic.”
Casto, along with other new members of ASTA’s Board of Directors and ASTA’s executive committee, joined the press on Tuesday to give an update on the advocacy efforts, including ongoing efforts to secure more aid for members.
“This year is really an important event for a lot of reasons,” Zane Kerby, president, and CEO of ASTA said on Tuesday. “The mood and the feeling here, I was so pleasantly surprised that so many members are hanging on, they are determined, and extremely engaged in ASTA’s advocacy work.”
According to Kerby, there are a couple of opportunities for ASTA to affect the legislative process coming up in the next few months.
The first is the ERTC Credit.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) provides business owners who have had their operations fully or partially suspended due to orders from the government with a 50% credit of each employee’s first $10,000 of payroll costs between March 13, 2020, and the end of December 2020, excluding the period an agency might have been utilizing Paycheck Protection Program.
It has been a lifeline for many agencies with employees, but, the new Infrastructure Bill takes the ERTC starting in the fourth quarter in order to offset some of the bill’s spending. ASTA is now tasked with somehow restoring that for its members should the bill pass.
"Our job here got a little more complicated when the infrastructure bill, as an offset, took away the ERTC in the fourth quarter,” Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy, said. “We’re trying to get additional relief whether it's the SAVE Act or something like it or restore the ERTC, at least for the fourth quarter. These are the things that we are pushing for every day…We’re going to fight tooth and nail to make it happen.”
ASTA got some good news during the Global Convention when Congressman Dean Phillips from Minnesota, a centrist Democratic, said he wouldn’t support the big-spending package until small businesses also get support.
Outside of the ERTC, there is still a tremendous need for general financial support for ASTA members. While the federal government did provide the travel industry and its small businesses support during the pandemic, that story is ongoing.
"From our view, the response of the federal gob to the pandemic has been deeply frustrating at times but they have provided some financial help to small businesses,” Peck said. “I don't want to lose sight of that.”
“Our members need more support, we are not alone. There are many other businesses depending on in-person activities that still need more support,” Peck said.
Right now, ASTA’s big priority on that side is the SAVE Act. The Act would give members access to grants of up to $10 million each to help their businesses recover from the pandemic, support that is “sorely needed” as members, surveyed both in January and then in June, are still down more than 80% from 2019 levels.
ASTA will continue to throw its support behind moves to get travel opening again, which means supporting movements towards freer international travel—pre-COVID, 70% of business in the industry was international trips. ASTA signed on to a blueprint for restarting international travel in July and will continue to push for the reopening of borders.
ASTA is also continuing to monitor the cruise restart. Back in mid-May, ASTA intervened in Florida’s lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make the court aware of the plight of the travel advisor community, an intervention that ultimately helped lead to a victory for Florida.
While that case could have more appeals and twists and turns ahead, the cruise industry has since be able to restart and the timeline for an ultimate final ruling on that might be some time away. ASTA will also continue pushing for a restart of business travel.
Royal's Richard Fain. Photo: ASTA.
ASTA Pac Hits Record Year After Advocacy Dinner Donations
2019 marked the high water mark for donations going into the Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA) Political Action Committee (PAC).
That year, according to ASTA’s Eben Peck, the PAC was able to raise $420,000 for lobbying efforts in Washington, money that went to good use when ASTA was able to help lobby during talks with AB5 in California and then, eventually, for financial support for its members during the pandemic.
While 2020 was far from a record year for the PAC, even with new pushes from ASTA including its Advocacy Awareness Day, 2021 has set yet another record high mark for the ASTA.
As of Wednesday morning, the total for the PAC now stands at $547,000 total with more donations yet to count.
A lot of that total came from the return of ASTA’s Advocacy Dinner, celebrated this week during the Global Convention. Coming into the night, ASTAPAC donations stood at $282,000 before some industry icons and suppliers made big announcements.
Three longtime ASTA members all added to the total—Jackie Friedman, on behalf of Nexion; donated an extra $5,000; Internova Travel Group added another $10,000; Matthew Upchurch, on behalf of Virtuoso, added $20,000; and Alex Sharpe, on behalf of Signature, added $20,000.
The two biggest donations came later in the night when Vicki Freed, on behalf of the Royal Caribbean Group of cruise lines, announced that that supplier was adding $100,000 to the total.
Richard Fain, the chairman of Royal Caribbean Group, who was on-hand to receive the lifetime achievement award from ASTA, also announced that he was personally donating another $100,000 to the PAC, matching the same donation from Royal.