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ASTA Deserves Strong Support From Agency Community

September 9, 2009 By: George Dooley

Congress has returned to Washington, D.C. this week with a crowded agenda ranging from health care to cap-and-trade legislation and a host of other contentious issues, including the economy and stimulus spending. Congressional action on these and a score of other issues will impact the operating cost and profitability of every small business in the U.S. That adds up to a very big reason why every travel agent should be a member of ASTA.

Top legislative priorities abound, from United Airlines attempt to shift its credit card cost to travel agents to the struggle of airline passengers to obtain relief from excessive tarmac delays. Congressional action on other issues such as the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control, the TransportationSecurity Administration and the Department of Transportation can impact every client of every travel agent – including home-based independent agents.

ASTA is also addressing complex state and local tax issues. Currently, the city of New York has a new tax on travel resellers and agents. Agents can anticipate revenue-hungry cities and states to target the travel industry in the year ahead. And too, there is the ongoing battle to get a viable program online to encourage international visitors to the U.S. and more. Last year, ASTA helped combat damaging tax and regulatory schemes in six states, often working with hoteliers, car rental firms, tour operators and destination managers.

Its been said hundreds of times: Travel agents need ASTA to provide forceful representation in Washington, D.C. and to defend travel agents from punitive regulation and taxation. From the Small Business Administration (SBA) (business loans) to the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) (defining what is or is not an independent contractor) the industry needs the ability to know what is happening and to be able to muster the expertise and legislative skills essential to survival.

ASTA has a highly-regarded legislative and legal staff needed to represent agents, as well as the integrity to work constructively with scores of other associations to build coalitions that have clout. ASTA works with virtually every group ranging from the National Tour Association (NTA) to the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) and the Interactive Travel Association. ASTA also has strong international links with other agent groups and can work with a host of  domestic groups such as the U.S. Travel Association. It has the ability to reach Congress and the federal agencies. It can change legislator’s views.

Other advantages are ASTA’s grass roots agency response capability and it’s relatively small but real  ASTA Political Action Committee (ASTAPAC). As the recent clash with United has shown, ASTA is able to mobilize support – including calls, emails, letters and personal visits in virtually any Congressional district. This is a critical strength when agents confront state and city tax issues.

Too few agents are represented in ASTA as either Core or Premium members. Those agents who do belong are in fact doing the job that their non-member colleagues should be helping with. The non-members are getting a free ride on the backs of dedicated,  talented professionals who care deeply about their businesses and the survival of the travel industry. They also show concern with  their client’s welfare. Aside from all the many services ASTA offers members— many designed to help contain costs and build sales and professionalism— the legislative capabilities of ASTA will be paramount in the year ahead.

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