ASTA: Government Must Help Travel Industry

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It’s been a busy week for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). It’s likely been a very busy year-plus-long stretch for the organization as it continues to advocate in federal and state governments for the betterment of travel agencies and advisors.

Most recently, ASTA has sent a letter to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky requesting that the CDC immediately issue guidance to the traveling public as its “numerous orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have created confusion, uncertainty and unpredictability, a chilling effect on future bookings and innumerable other challenges for our travel agency members.”

Among its requests, ASTA asked for “the adoption of concrete milestones against which the enforcement of various travel-related policies can be measured will ensure that travel advisors, suppliers and consumers can make informed decisions.” ASTA also asked that the CDC declare a rule or regulation to exempt those who have been fully vaccinated from the various CDC-ordered travel restrictions. Similarly, it recommended that the CDC incorporate technology applications, such as the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass Initiative or the privately funded CommonPass to relax travel requirements for those who can establish vaccination, immunity or a negative test result.

In a separate statement, ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said, “ASTA acknowledges that our country is in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in U.S. history and that continued action is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19; however, it is undeniable that government mandates here and abroad—the most recent examples being the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) requirement of a negative COVID test for entry to the U.S., and the Canadian government’s announcement that it is closing its ports to cruise ships through early 2022—have had a catastrophic impact on the travel and hospitality industry.  The travel-reliant jobs that have survived nearly a year without meaningful business and revenue (and many have not) are at immediate risk of collapse through no fault of their own.”

ASTA gathered intel on February 2 from its advisors and found that on average, once travel starts to resume, it will be eight-and-a-half months between the return of bookings and business receipts for the booked travel. Even if they have access to a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, the Employee Retention Credit, unemployment benefits and other relief programs, more than 70 percent of agencies will fail in six months and 85 percent won’t make it beyond the next 12 months. Lastly, the average revenue loss for ASTA agencies is 82 percent.

In his statement, Kerby continued: “Existing and contemplated travel restrictions create uncertainty, fail to acknowledge effective safety measures already in place, divert focus and resources from needed areas and will and have done little to stop or tame the virus’ spread. It seems intuitive that when government action, taken in the interest of protecting public health, has a disproportionally negative impact on a specific industry, as is the case here, it is a matter of fundamental fairness that the government provide targeted relief to the businesses most severely affected.”

He also called current financial support for the travel industry “tragically inadequate.” The good news, ASTA said in a letter to its members, is that Congress is expected to write and pass another round of COVID-19 relief legislation by mid-March. Among ASTA’s top priorities are:

  • A $9.3 billion travel agency grant program akin to those created by the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2021 for performing arts venues, movie theaters and museums; this amount represents projected second through fourth quarter 2021 revenue loss
  • Include Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services in the Continuing Appropriations Act’s provision allowing certain businesses to receive a PPP loan of three-and-a-half times their average monthly payroll versus two-and-a-half times for other applicants
  • Support any and all efforts, including changing existing laws, to mitigate the impact of the Canadian government’s decision to suspend cruise operations in Canadian waters through February 2022 and to otherwise ensure the cruise industry in Alaska can resume operations as soon as possible

A spokesperson for ASTA tells us, “ASTA is doing absolutely everything we can do to engage with lawmakers during this period of negation and we will continue to press the CDC and other agencies for deliberate actions.” With that said, ASTA said in its letter to members that “your Members of Congress need to hear from you.”  To that end, it has created a template message (or script) in its Advocacy Portal, which travel advisors can email (or recite over the phone) to their representatives.

ASTA notes that since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 25,000 messages and calls have been sent to Congress by its members. If you have any questions, you can contact ASTA at [email protected]

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