During a press conference on Friday, representatives from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and industry leaders, took a hardline against inaction by Congress on further rounds of stimulus, calling for them to provide more relief to the travel industry as COVID-19 continues to have a major impact.
“Congress’ inaction is appalling,” President Zane Kerby said on Friday. Kerby cited the recent airline furloughs, which he said were “a completely avoidable outcome,” as further evidence that relief needs to be provided to “businesses like our that government actions has essentially shut down.”
“If members of Congress head home without providing relief to decimated businesses like ours, no one should believe the words that leave their lips as they campaign over the coming the months,” he said.
Kerby went on to say that, eight months into the pandemic, there is still no national strategy on testing, something that in absence of a vaccine would help stop the spread of the virus. And that one mode of transportation seems to have been targeted by the CDC.
“One mode of transportation was singled out for extraordinary scrutiny – cruising,” he said.
After reports that the CDC’s “No-Sail” order would be lifted on Nov. 1 last week, the CDC seemingly stopped any momentum and optimism when it extended its order through at least Oct. 31 and said that more action is still needed for cruise lines to get the okay to sail.
The CDC, in its announcement, mentioned that data out of Europe, after some cruise lines restarted, suggests that cruise ships could still “continue to transmit and amplify the spread” of COVID-19.
“It’s sometimes easy to forget that science is a method of inquiry and that this virus is 8 to 10 months old…Theme parks, malls, hotels, airports are all open,” Kerby said. “25,000 people even attended an SEC football game last weekend.”
Kerby called the CDC’s action an “arbitrary and unacceptable position and decision” that “proves that the pandemic is too important to be left to the scientists alone.”
While ASTA is still calling for advisors to put as much pressure on their representatives as possible, with phone calls and emails, ASTA may go as far as to sue the federal government, something that’s possible under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), “should the CDC’s no sail order remain in effect,” Kerby said.
“In Congress, first, negotiations over the next round of COVID relief have been completely and utterly stalemated since July,” ASTA’s Eben Peck said. Peck cited a number of political reasons behind the stalemate, but said that “The reasons really don’t matter that much, the consequences do.”
“Our part of the travel industry is suffering greatly, more than most.”
An ASTA survey from August found that 94.3% of agencies’ business income is down at least 75% from 2019 and that 64% of travel agencies have laid off at least half of their staff. That survey also found that ultimately, 73% of ASTA members predict they could be out of business in six months or less should conditions hold and additional relief isn’t provided.
“Almost all of them have either run out of funding or have malfunction completely so it’s a pretty dire situation,” Peck said.
ASTA last week announced it had joined broad coalition called the COVID Relief Now Coalition, a group made up of nearly 200 public and private sector groups across the country that have been impacted by the pandemic, which are calling on congress to provide additional support ahead of the upcoming election.
Peck said that the move was made “with the simple goal of getting these folks back to the negotiation table and getting a deal.”
“What’s the end game? We’re not sure. We’re very frustrated. Everyone we talk to is very frustrated…I worry about how many of our members will be left…if deal doesn’t get done until next year.”
Aside from stimulus, Peck reflected Kerby’s sentiment that, other than direct relief, the most impactful thing that the federal government can do is to lift the CDC’s “No-Sail” order. ASTA was one of the bodies to provide comment to the CDC prior to the extension, and 700 members joined ASTA.
“Cruise lines have had a long history of protecting public health,” he said. “Cruise ships are designed with social distancing in mind, it’s possible to social distance on a cruise ship.”
Part of the reason that ASTA’s frustration is so high is also because data shows a huge pent-up demand from consumers, who will travel once borders open.
“Travel is at the top of the pyramid in terms of people want,” ASTA’s Mark Meader said.
Another ASTA survey found that if the pandemic ended tomorrow, 46% of travelers said their first large discretionary purchase would be travel and that 73% of travelers who have taken a cruise in the past year are ready to go now.
Marc Castro, the leisure president of Americas at Flight Centre Travel Group and ASTA Board Member, was one of the agency executives who joined the call to talk about the impact on his business. Castro, speaking after Flight Centre laid off 1,000 people earlier in the week, said that the frustration is growing because of the reaction it’s getting from its consumers.
“In August we launched a booking campaign with participation with key suppliers,” including with extraordinary flexible rules and a great discount. According to Castro, the response “was 500% higher than any other campaign we have ever done.”
Vicky Garcia from Cruise Planners also joined the call for more action, explaining that franchise members have had their livelihood “extraordinarily” impacted by the lack of action. “Something that we’ve notice is that people want to travel. They are at home right now they are pent up – future travel sales are trending up 25% for our new bookings are for Europe,” she said.