The final results of the hotly contested and closely followed midterm elections are barely clear, but the travel industry has already begun to assess what the potential impact might be.
One big change is that the next Congress will have so many elected officials who are brand new to their roles. U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow noted in a statement that “roughly one-quarter of Congress” is new, and will require an education on key travel issues.
"We have long stressed that travel is not a red or blue issue — it's a red, white and blue opportunity,” Dow said in the statement. “Our approach might change slightly depending upon who's in office, but our mission to make sure travel and tourism are part of the policymaking discussion never does. Both parties recognize the economic power of increasing travel to and within the United States, and that the 15.6 million our industry helps employ are Republicans and Democrats and everything in between.”
What about ICs?
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) issued a member news item about the election, focusing on some of ASTA’s largest issues. For example, Congressional Democrats have been pushing measures to crack down on the use of independent contractors (ICs). ASTA estimates there are approximately 20,000 IC travel advisors in the U.S.
“While the overall regulatory environment for ICs at the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service is likely to remain favorable, we expect to see proposals from Congressional Democrats that would undo long-standing protections for businesses using ICs,” said Eben Peck, ASTA executive vice president, advocacy.
This could “force changes in business processes and massive new tax and compliance expenses. At the same time, the odds of passage of the IC-friendly Harmonization of Coverage Act just got that much steeper,” he said.
Effect on overtime pay, selling cruises, and Cuba travel
When it comes to overtime pay for travel advisors, ASTA is concerned that a Democratic-led House “will be less inclined” to give committee consideration or floor time to business-friendly bills like the DOL Blacklist – The Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act, introduced last year by Representative Francis Rooney (FL 19th).
The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, would remove travel agencies from a regulatory “blacklist” that blocks them from utilizing an exemption from federal overtime rules designed for retail businesses.
Laws and rules for issues like the blacklist and ICs are overseen by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Current ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA 03) is likely to take over leadership of this Committee, and he is expected to be in line with his Democratic colleagues in opposition to streamlining IC regulation and in support of expanding overtime coverage, ASTA said.
ASTA is also concerned that the Democrats will pursue legislation for more federal oversight of the cruise industry while adding new disclosure burdens (with financial penalties and even jail time for non-compliance) for travel advisors who sell cruises.
“Next year, we may see bills similar to these, which ASTA strongly opposes, introduced but unlikely to advance in a Republican-controlled Senate,” Peck said.
Another contentious issue under the Trump Administration has been travel to Cuba, but ASTA feels the House flipping to the Democrats will not likely impact regulations.
“We may see Cuba travel liberalization provisions advance through the House next year, but no further,” Peck said.
For some of the Capitol’s key committees, ASTA expects some changes. For example, on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who has been leading Committee Democrats since 2014, is likely to take over as Chairman.
DeFazio is considered the foremost Democratic proponent of the airline-supported Transparent Airfares Act, as well as a provision in the 2018 FAA bill expanding the insecticide disclosure requirement. On the Republican side, Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Jeff Denham (R-CA) are likely to face off for the “ranking member” slot, ASTA said.
On the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) is expected to give up his committee chairmanship. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), a strong travel industry supporter, is next in line. Wicker is noted for his support for consumer-friendly provisions in the FAA bill to bar “unreasonable” change or cancellation fees (which were ultimately left out of the final bill due to airline opposition).