On a recent press call the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) released the latest data from its ASTA Financial Benchmarking Report, and the signs are strong for U.S. travel agencies.
In the report 74 percent of ASTA agencies surveyed reported that their revenues either increased or stayed the same during the first half of 2016, the latest period for which data was available.
“It’s very good news for us and for the industry,” says Erika Richter, communications director at ASTA, noting that the organization would release the data for the full year of 2016 once it becomes available.
The results for the first half of 2016 were similar for sales (76 percent), transactions (70 percent) and number of clients (78 percent). Numbers for the full year of 2015 were strong as well, with 81 percent of respondents reporting either increased or the same revenue that year.
Breaking it down by segment, in 2016 56 percent of agencies reported increased cruise sales and increased FIT sales, followed by tour groups (48%), hotel (45%) and air (40%).
Looking ahead to this year, ASTA SVP Government and Industry Affairs Eben Peck shared a series of updates on ASTA’s top legislative priorities for 2017:
1. The EU Visa Vote — Peck reiterated what many industry officials have been saying about the EU Parliament’s recent vote to suspend visa-free travel from the U.S. — that travelers shouldn’t worry about any action anytime soon.
“It’s pretty clear from researching the issue that the EU Parliament does not have a tremendous amount of power, and that nothing is certainly imminent — there is no cause for panic,” Peck says. “Taking step back, we would be very concerned about restricting visa-free travel to Europe, and we hope that cooler heads will prevail.”
2. Airline Ancillary Fees — The U.S. Department of Transportation has suspended its rule making on airline baggage fees, which came out in January right before President Donald Trump took office.
“It’s not unexpected but it’s disappointing as we’ve been pushing for consumers to be able to purchase ancillary fees when using a travel agent for a number of years,” says Peck. “When they pick it back up again we’re going to keep pushing.”
3. The Department of Labor Overtime Rule — ASTA is still working to get travel agencies removed from a Department of Labor blacklist that prevents listed industries from taking advantage of an exemption to overtime rules.
Peck says that ASTA has found a member of Congress who can introduce legislation overruling the Department of Labor’s rules, and the organization hopes to have an announcement to make soon.
4. The Sales Tax Fight in Ohio — ASTA is currently advocating against a proposed expansion to Ohio’s sales tax that would apply the tax to certain service industries, including travel agencies, tour operators and sellers of prepackaged travel.
“It would put travel agents in Ohio at a substantial disadvantage to competitors in neighboring states,” says Peck, noting that ASTA has joined coalition of several service industries in the state to fight the proposal.
5. The New Travel Ban — Finally, in the wake of the newly revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries, Peck says that ASTA is continuing to monitor the situation for its impact on travel agencies, because right now it’s too soon to tell.
“I think we’re going to look at letting the dust from both bans settle a bit,” says Peck. “Maybe a few months out we can get a read on this — is this having a real impact or are people just having an emotional reaction?”