or the past several weeks, Sylvia
MacVettie has been a busy woman, working long days and long nights.
The excessive hours cannot be attributed directly to her agency,
Travel Network in New Port Richey, Fla., although that business
certainly is hopping.
The truth is, she's up to her ears in taxes -- but not the taxes
we all pay on April 15.
MacVettie is a first-term ASTA chapter president, responsible for
Florida, which is at the front line of a legislative issue that
could potentially inspire other states.
A bill pending in the state Legislature would alter the state
constitution and revamp Florida's sales tax laws, reducing the tax
from 6% to 4.5%. Few are against lower taxes, but in this case, as
maverick presidential candidate Ross Perot used to say, the devil
is in the details.
To reduce the tax, the state is considering expanding the tax
base to include a slew of items and services that weren't levied
before, such as, you guessed it: the commissions agents earn from
suppliers and the service fees they charge their clients.
The state Senate already has approved its version of the
measure. Now it heads to the House. If the House does the same, the
proposal would be presented to voters as a referendum in
Now, this isn't the first time Florida has considered taxing
In 1987, the last time the state revamped the sales taxes,
travel agents were able to secure an exemption, arguing double
This time, with the economy mired in recession and tourism the
lifeblood for states like Florida, soft, bolstering tax revenue has
become a very attractive option.
So now, travel agents like MacVettie have to work to secure an
To make matters worse, time isn't exactly on their side. Agents
have until March before the Legislature adjourns.
And that's why MacVettie is so busy these days. Between
organizing agent lobbying efforts, sending out newsletters, talking
with the media, meeting with ASTA members from around the state,
and, oh yes, selling travel, her days are pretty full.
The good news is the ASTA chapter has had some success. The
Florida Senate recently approved a bill that would grant travel
agents an exemption from the sales tax. The bill now moves on to
Additionally, MacVettie said, Gov. Jeb Bush has voiced
opposition to the tax plan. "The governor is not happy at all,"
MacVettie said. "He doesn't feel that the timing is right."
MacVettie believes that with the governor publicly coming out
against the sales tax initiative, it likely will die a quiet death
in the House.
That is possible, but MacVettie said agents in Florida are not
taking any chances.
The tax proposal has some strong backers, such as the American
Association of Retired Persons, which reportedly has some 2 million
members in Florida alone.
"So I am continuing to encourage my chapter to meet with their
House representatives," MacVettie said. "They need to be educated
about what travel agents are all about, what we do and how we get
So while MacVettie said she's breathing a sigh of relief with
the Senate victory, she and her 439 ASTA chapter members aren't yet
ready to start celebrating.
Indeed, MacVettie said her chapter is fully prepared to hire a
lobbyist, if necessary, to assure the exemption remains intact.
"Even if [the tax bill] dies this year, it may be back,"
-- Michael Milligan
The Energizer agent
Helping agents fight City Hall while keeping her own agency
profitable is all part of a very long day's work for Sylvia
MacVettie, owner of Travel Network in New Port Richey, Fla.
But somehow she is able to keep it all together through a
combination of drive, optimism and a sense of humor.
"I work about 12 hours a day, but I am trying to take two days
[Wednesday and Thursday] off per week," MacVettie said.
Her plans didn't quite work out the week we caught up with her.
She was in the office on a Wednesday.
Among other things, she had to participate in a conference call
later in the day with her ASTA chapter's six-member board of
directors to discuss an edition of the monthly newsletter and to
plan for a chapter meeting in Orlando next month. ASTA president
Richard Copland is slated to attend.
MacVettie said her days usually are spent juggling her ASTA
responsibilities and handling the finances and marketing for Travel
Network, which is located inside a Super Wal-Mart store. The agency
is open seven days a week.
MacVettie's husband, Vince, who recently suffered a stroke, has
owned travel agencies since 1967.
Sylvia MacVettie "married into the travel business" in 1995, she
said, and it was her husband who got her involved with ASTA.
She served as treasurer of the Florida chapter and in 2000 was
MacVettie said her biggest challenge is getting local ASTA
members more involved with the chapter.
"I am really trying to drum that up. We really need more
participation," she said.
"A lot of people are not as optimistic about the industry as I
am. This industry is going to be around, and we are going to make
"We are going to have some good years. We are going to have some
lean years. But this industry isn't going away."
Marc My Words
The Right Hotel
Is it easy for consumers to book a hotel stay? Yes.
Is it easy for them to book the right hotel? Not at all.
In fact, the general public seems so concerned about whether a
hotel will be right for them that, according to a recent Travel
Industry Association of America poll, they cited "previous
experience with a hotel" as the No. 1 reason for choosing a certain
Better to stay with the known, even if it may not be the best
choice. At least it will be a predictable choice.
times of drive vacations, booking hotels has become a solid source
of income for agencies.
And if you can find the best lodging for your clients, it will
provide one more reason for them to come to you for other products
and services when our environment normalizes.
Here are some steps to help you provide expert advice on
• Familiarize yourself with the profiles of major hotel
You should be aware, for instance, that JW Marriott or Park Hyatt
is more upscale and oriented to the business customer than other
hotels in each chain.
• Ask your client about lodging preferences.
Very often, agents fail to ask important questions about what kinds
of accommodations the client prefers, even though this is one of
the most critical elements of a memorable vacation.
• Determine where your client prefers to stay.
Some people like hotels in quiet residential areas, and others love
to be where the action is. Knowing where a client prefers to stay
will help you narrow the options available.
• Do your research before recommending.
You'll want to check availability before you get a client excited
about a property that's fully booked.
• Consult a good hotel reference source.
The Official Hotel Guide has a dependable, 10-level rating system.
The Star Service's detailed and unbiased analyses of worldwide
lodging is accurate and entertaining, as well.
• Recommend only one property.
Use benefits language to explain why your hotel selection fits the
client's needs. But have a backup ready if they want further
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles