Fee Transparency Focus of Meeting Between DOT and ASTA

New enhanced consumer protection rules and providing travel agents with full access to ancillary fees were among the issues discussed when members of the American Society of Travel AgentsCorporate Advisory Council (CAC) met with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood and Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings Sam Podberesky in Washington, D.C. last week.

The CAC, which brings together top executives representing the most powerful travel agencies and TMCs, consortia, franchise groups and online travel agencies, heard the latest from DOT about its regulatory and government efforts on behalf of the industry.
“This meeting was exceptional in terms of the content delivered and the rare chance for those in attendance to meet with and hear from Secretary LaHood. Opportunities such as this don’t come along every day, and we are honored that Secretary LaHood took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us,” said ASTA CEO Tony Gonchar. “This really speaks to the caliber of the CAC members and the power they and ASTA represent.”
“The recent CAC meeting was engaging and powerful,” said Ellen Bettridge, vice president of Retail Travel Network for American Express and the chair of the CAC. “I was so impressed by the level of involvement Ray LaHood and his team have with the ASTA staff. The CAC is a fantastic opportunity to meet with the top thought leaders in our industry and promote our shared advocacy of the travel business.”
ASTA reports that Secretary LaHood reiterated his and the Obama administration’s commitment to making the air travel process as transparent as possible by assuring that all information relevant to consumers is disclosed at the proper time in the buying cycle. LaHood also spoke more broadly about DOT initiatives that relate to improving the efficiency of air travel, including the high priority NextGen program to modernize air traffic management.

LaHood also reiterated the DOT’s commitment to developing high-speed rail systems to give consumers options for travel in high-density travel corridors. The Secretary took questions from CAC members and urged the travel agencies present to help the DOT in the evolution of its enhanced consumer protection rules by sharing their experience and expertise. He expressed appreciation for ASTA’s cooperation with the Department in that regard.
The Secretary’s presentation was followed by Sam Podberesky, the Department’s assistant general counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings, who shared with the agency attendees a deep review of the new enhanced consumer protection rules, including valuable insights into enforcement policy and practice.

ASTA noted that Podberesky was accompanied by Blane Workie, deputy assistant general counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings, who shared the podium for a lengthy discussion with attendees about important details and nuances of the rules.
“Sometimes industry events are less than useful but I always find the CAC meetings to be informative and enlightening, offering practical insight into how to manage our business more effectively,” noted  Tony Shepherd, COO of Protravel International Inc.

“There were two aspects of this meeting that I was particularly impressed with. First, the quality of the people in the room--the agencies attending the meeting are the cream of the crop in travel and the people representing them are all true visionaries within the industry. Second, the fact that we were able to meet with the Secretary of Transportation. Having a senior member of the current administration take time out his schedule to speak to our group speaks volumes about what the CAC has been able to achieve in Washington and the influence we have as a group on the travel industry in general.  It is obvious that the DOT recognizes this fact and having our voices heard at that level is priceless," Shepherd said.
The event provided attendees with networking opportunities and the chance to participate in high level discussions, ASTA said. Attendees also heard from Mike Premo, president and CEO of the Airlines Reporting Corp., about his company’s plans for the future, and from ASTA executives about the Society’s strategic vision.

CAC members also heard presentations on the DOT’s enhanced airline passenger protection rulemaking and its impact on travel agents and an update on ASTA’s work to provide travel agents with full access to ancillary fees, ASTA said.
“I was so pleased to see critical topics relating to travel sellers of all channels--online, megas, TMCs, and storefront locations--and the end user consumer at the forefront of the DOT.  It was impressive to have Secretary Ray La Hood and Sam Podberesky address the CAC in an open and approachable dialogue for the good of the U.S. traveler!” said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president, Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc.
Event sponsors included Airlines Reporting Corp., Starwood Hotels and Resorts, The St Regis, Washington DC and The W Hotel, Washington, DC.

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