This week, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) kicked off the start of the main programming for its 2020 Global Convention. While this year looks a lot different than years past, advisors still took center stage, as ASTA and industry executives talked about the battles of the last five months and the potential of a brighter, better future.
ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby opened the general session on Tuesday, telling advisors that despite all the adversity they’ve faced over the past few months, they are still here – and will be stronger for it.
“COVID-19’s effect on our industry cannot be overstated,” Kerby said. “The past five months have literally be the most challenging our industry has ever faced. Though the odds are daunting and the road ahead challenging, ASTA is here for you.”
In the past five months, ASTA has held over 100 congressional meetings, two grassroots campaigns, and “forcibly encouraged the industry’s suppliers to treat you…fairly,” he said.
Kerby highlighted two new ASTA resources that the group hopes will help advisors continue their push for congressional aid that could help some agencies survive – Letter to the Editor samples and travel advisor media mobilization education sessions.
“Media pressure can be accelerant” for congressional progress, Kerby added. “You are not alone, we are together, and together we will build a bridge to a brighter future.”
Coming to the aid of advisors
In an interview with Travel Market Report Publisher Anne Marie Moebes, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio talked about the decision that NCLH, along with many of its competitor ocean cruise lines, made to pay commission on cancelled sailings.
“The word ‘partners’ is thrown around more often than not, but if we’re really partners we need to come to each other’s aid,” Del Rio said. “We’re pleased and happy that we have the wherewithal to be able to help during these stressful times and we’re going to remain loyal to them just as they remain loyal to us.”
Del Rio also spoke about NCLH’s decision to partner with Royal Caribbean on its Healthy Sail Panel, a group of experts that includes Dr. Scott Gottlieb and former Utah Governor and Sec. of Health and Human Service Mike Leavitt, who will guide NCLH and Royal in building the policies they need to put in place to return to sailing safely.
Del Rio saw Dr. Scott Gottlieb on CNBC and “I said that’s the fellow.” Del Rio reached out to Gottlieb and told him NCLH was forming a council to bring together expertise, and “we hit it off.”
“He understood the issues, he thought he could help, and we engaged him to start drawing up plans to put together our own health and safety panel. Almost concurrent to that, Richard Fain and I were talking about how we deal with COVID-19…We said ‘why don’t we do this together?’”
“We’re very happy. Richard and I are kindred spirits when it comes to safety and health and we want to share this with the rest of the cruise industry. Anyone who thinks the work this panel is doing…this is a blue ribbon panel, you can’t get any better expertise.”
Fain, speaking later during the opening general session, gave advisors “best wishes from everyone at the Royal Caribbean group.”
“I don’t need to tell you what a terrible year this has been like,” he said. “It won’t surprise me if this is the toughest year many of you travel advisors have ever had. Certainly that has been the case for the cruise industry.
“There’s something you can think about the next time it seems like the challenges of 2020 are overwhelming. We have one precious commodity that we are still holding onto…you sell and we sell destinations, we sell experiences, we sell memories…that are waiting to be made on people’s vacation.
“The pandemic has taught us a lot of things, including the value you provide to your clients and our customers.
“We’re all ready to get back to a world of social not distancing and human interaction. We are not there yet but when the day does come, people are going to appreciate the services that you have to offer more than ever.”
DOT Secretary talks recovery during keynote
“These last few months have been among the most challenging the country has ever faced and as you all are too aware, the travel industry has been among the most severely impacted,” Elaine Chao, the United States Secretary of Transportation, said as she kicked off her keynote address to attendees.
Chao spoke about how the department was providing assistance, supplies, and guidance for all modes of transportation over the last few months, highlighted by the CARES Act. That included $10 billion in relief to airports, $2 billion in airport safety and infrastructure grants, and $50 billion to airlines, travel agents, and airport contractors.
The goal of that allocation was to “ensure that airports are ready to go when travel demand returns.”
The DOT has also distributed over 100 million face coverings and published its Recovery Resource Guide for air travel in July, which “provides clear guidance to airlines and airports in keeping the traveling public safe.”
“The next few months will continue to challenge our country but the Department is working hard to ensure our transportation systems are safe and operational,” Chao said.
“Let me thank you for everything you do during normal times to ensure a quality experience for travelers. You do so much to get the traveling public to their destination and back, safely and smoothly, and you help to make the experience a positive one.”