A recent Destination: Capitol Hill lobbying event has already netted concrete action in support of travel and tourism with the addition of some 12 more congressional sponsors for a key piece of industry legislation.
With U.S. Travel at the helm, the event brought together for the first time numerous industry groups to lobby Congress on legislation and issues critical to the travel industry. It was held April 10-11 in Washington, D.C., and plans are to hold it annually.
The Congressional members who signed on as new co-sponsors of the JOLT Act, (Jobs Originating through Launching Travel) bring the number of Congressional sponsors to 30 (see sidebar). The act has been attached to the immigration reform bill now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In addition, several members of Congress visited by Destination: Capitol Hill delegates said they now planned to join the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus.
“It’s the rare congressional meeting that you get a deliverable like that,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s vice president of government affairs, of the new JOLT Act co-sponsorships.
Peck was one of more than 300 industry professionals who, organized into teams, made hundreds of visits to representatives and senators during Destination: Capitol Hill. ASTA was one of eight “industry leaders” for the event.
The sponsors of the event, under the U.S. Travel umbrella, were NTA, the Southeast Tourism Society and the Destination Marketing Association.
According to Candace Knezevic, director of Grassroots and Industry Relations for U.S. Travel, the sponsors identified four key issues for delegates to focus on in meetings with Congressional members. They were:
• Building co-sponsors and support for the JOLT Act.
• Educating members about the value of Brand USA and the need to reauthorize the Travel Promotion Act which created the organization.
• Support for investment aimed at modernizing travel and transportation infrastructure.
• Educating members on the value of government travel, meetings and events.
Speaking with one voice
In the past the sponsoring groups – in addition to numerous other industry organizations – had held their own separate advocacy events in Washington, enabling them to deal with their more narrowly focused concerns.
But the coming together of so many industry groups for Destination: Capitol Hill has enabled the industry to speak more powerfully with one voice, said Knezevic.
“U.S. Travel is the umbrella organization for the entire industry and our goal is to get more people traveling,” she said. “That’s something every single sector of the industry can get behind so we identified issues that get to the heart of more people traveling to and within the U.S.
“Some folks may be more passionate about the JOLT Act while for others it’s the infrastructure issue but what is critical about a fly-in [to Washington D.C.] is that you have hundreds of people on the Hill with one unified voice touting the value that travel brings to the U.S. economy.”
Peck said the event’s sponsors did “a good job of boiling it down,” in terms of the crucial industry issues.
ASTA has additional concerns that specifically affect travel agents – including airline ancillary fees, independent contractor issues and liberalizing travel to Cuba – “but at the end of the day, the top priority is a healthy travel industry,” said Peck.
“Better late than never,” he said of the industry joining together. Destination: Capitol Hill also provided a chance to talk about the distribution or agent side of the industry, Peck said.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times people have asked me if travel agents are still around and that’s happened in Washington too,” he said. “They say lobbying is 90% education. We did a lot of educating [at the event]. It’s more effective to ask for legislative action if the person you’re asking knows what you’re talking about.”
More ‘horsepower’ for NTA
Tom Jaffa, chair of NTA’s Government Relations Committee, was part of the six-member Washington state delegation to Destination: Capitol Hill.
Jaffa, whose company is Jaffa Travel & Receptive Services in Seattle, more than ten years ago conceived the idea for NTA’s former advocacy event: the NTA Grassroots Symposium and Capitol Hill Visit program.
“Now by bringing associations together I had much more horsepower than if it was just NTA,” he said.
Of 12 visits Jaffa’s team made to Congressional members – his state’s two senators and 10 representatives – “100% said they were receptive to joining the travel and tourism caucus and several said they’d already signed up.”
“It’s of interest to travel agents – to any of us in the industry – that we make it easy to travel,” Jaffa said. “As a volunteer advocate on the Hill I’m not just advocating for NTA but for travel and tourism.”