One of the largest trade associations in America, ASTA has been working to bring impactful legislation for travel industry workers. Congress is taking notice as legislators are exploring ways to protect your rights on the job.
The “what is the congress” is a question that has been asked by many people. The Congress of the United States is a bicameral legislature which consists of two houses: the Senate and House of Representatives.
The second annual ASTA Advocacy Awareness Day began on Facebook on October 19, 2021, with Vanessa McGovern and Shannon Cunningham of Gifted Travel Network inviting attendees to the event, which was broadcast live on the association’s Facebook page via a series of live videos.
Throughout the day, live speakers and panelists addressed the many issues ASTA was advocating for in meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as the significance of member contributions in having favorable legislation enacted that benefit rather than hurt the sector.
There has never been a more critical moment for ASTA to advocate.
“It’s been an extremely tough year-and-a-half for ASTA and its members,” said Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy for ASTA. We wanted to recognize the tremendous work our members have done in support of our post-COVID lobbying activities and let new and potential members know how they can get engaged as we strive to accelerate the industry’s recovery.”
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During the “ASTA Strong” address, Peck emphasized the critical role that government has played in the travel advisor industry over the past year.
“Over the last year and a half, the government has loomed so large over your company,” he added. “In terms of your company, it’s literally the difference between life and death.”
ASTA’s tools, according to Peck, are a “three-legged stool.”
Direct lobbying by ASTA employees and its two outside lobbying companies is the first step. “Our true power in every state and every congressional district,” he added, is grassroots lobbying with ASTA’s 17,000 members.
The third is ASTA PAC’s political involvement. “It’s how we combine money, influence the political process, and contribute to campaigns,” Peck said.
McGovern and Cunningham talked with Joshua Bush of Avenue Two Travel, Kareem George of Culture Traveler, and Eric Maryanov of All-Travel during the “Advisors Still Standing” session. Each of them discussed how ASTA’s critical efforts during the epidemic aided in keeping agencies afloat.
“Without ASTAPAC and their lobbying efforts, we would not have progressed as far as we have in this epidemic,” Bush added.
He praised ASTA for providing a resource for advisers to learn about programs that were essential to their survival, such as the PPP, as well as training advisors on EIDL. He also mentioned ASTA’s continuing ERTC initiatives.
“We have families and individuals who need to be cared for,” Bush said, “and our industry is off by 85-90 percent.” “It’s critical to have ASTA on Capitol Hill discussing our position and how our financial flow works, which is quite different from that of many other sectors. The capacity to have sit-downs with Chuck Schumer’s office demonstrates the network’s and ASTA’s influence. Without these initiatives and pasta stepping up to the plate on our behalf, we at Avenue Two Travel would not be where we are now.”
George appreciated ASTA’s educational efforts in the area of PPP and attributed them with assisting him as an independent contractor in particular.
“I found out about and learnt about PPP because of ASTA and its lobbying activities,” George remarked. “Everyone recalls how perplexing all of these programs were when they first debuted. Understanding and even knowing that I was qualified to apply for PPP as an independent contractor was a nightmare. My company would not be rebounding as quickly as it is now if it weren’t for ASTA’s help.”
“The value of ASTA is that it serves as a unified voice for the whole industry,” Maryanov said. “Nobody can do what ASTA does in bringing us together as one voice in Washington to navigate what it takes to go around in Washington and to get our voices heard about what our industry is and the needs of our business, because we are such a varied collection of individuals. Long before all of this with Covid, ASTA has been there. I can’t image going through Covid without ASTA, but they certainly up to the challenge.”
ASTA raised awareness of the suffering of travel advisors and the travel industry to the government, and since they had established a foundation via their annual Legislative Day and continuing lobbying efforts over the years, people recognized who they were, which is a big advantage, according to Maryanov.
“I don’t believe any of us would be in business right now if ASTA hadn’t been there for us all along, therefore now is the time for us to be there for ASTA,” Maryanov added, emphasizing the necessity of financially supporting ASTAPAC.
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support, and service, spoke with the audience about her experience with ASTA on Legislative Day, when she and other travel advisers pressed government officials and lawmakers to share their experiences.
“It’s critical that we tell our narrative,” Freed added. “For the last six or seven years, I’ve been a part of Legislative Day, and I’ve always found it interesting. It is critical to speak with these authorities since they are unfamiliar with our industry. We had to explain all of the difficulties this year. They had no idea how travel consultants were compensated. When we explained that travel advisers aren’t compensated until the final payment, [legislators] said, “Wait a minute, how do you make ends meet?””
Freed stressed the significance of being able to give lawmakers a narrative that was meaningful to them. She also mentioned how Alaska’s summer sailing season was preserved on Legislative Day. Everyone spoke about it, and it was voted on that night, and it passed.
“This demonstrates the strength of your voice and the difference that one of us can make on Legislative Day,” Freed added.
During the occasion, ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby spoke to the participants of the ASTA Advocacy Awareness Day. The sun is starting to burst through the clouds, according to Kerby.
He cited ASTA and sister organizations in the United Kingdom and Canada’s achievements in convincing the Biden Administration to open international borders. A week later, the government declared that vaccinated visitors would be allowed to enter the United States.
Kerby also discussed ASTA’s conversation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in favor of a number of legislation now being debated in Congress. As the senator works with his colleagues to decide which organizations get assistance, ASTA was able to keep travel advisors on his mind.
“Our call was a huge success,” Kerby remarked. “He seemed mainly unconcerned about the difficulties we confront. The lag time in getting commissions exacerbates the problems. He was sympathetic and promised to help. Senator Schumer’s office has also been quite helpful to ASTA personnel in the last several weeks.”
Those who contributed to the cause did so because they believed in investing in the present and future of the travel advisor community, according to Kerby. That is the force and significance of ASTA, and it is this that gives me hope for our bright future.”
Travel advisors may help ASTA meet and exceed its goal of $30,000 raised in 2020 by donating at ASTA.org/Donate.