ASTA: Shutdown pain looms

TSA operations in Fort Lauderdale
"If airport security screening operations are really impacted, that could cause people to start canceling trips," ASTA's Eben Peck said. Photo Credit: Hayk Shalunts/Shutterstock

ASTA said it is closely monitoring the government shutdown and its effects on the travel industry, which have been minimal thus far. However, the situation could worsen significantly if a resolution doesn't soon come to pass.

"It's clear there's not a huge disruption to travel at this point, which is good, but there are a number of things I think that have started to bubble," said Eben Peck, ASTA's executive vice president of advocacy. "If this continues for a long time, this is really going to start to pinch."

ASTA's priority at the moment is keeping members up to date on a number of things that could be affected by the shutdown. The Society is posting updates on its website as well as in its e-newsletter, Travel Advisor Daily.

"At least in the short term, basic functions related to travel will continue unimpeded," a members-only update sent last Thursday stated. "There will be some immediate impacts, however, including the closure of national parks and federally-run museums, and the longer the shutdown persists the greater the likelihood of negative consequences for the travel industry."

ASTA is also having conversations with members of Congress, talking about the impacts of the shutdown on the travel industry.

In an interview on Tuesday, Peck said the most immediate impact is on national parks. Some are open with staff, some are open without staff and some are closed.

"If you're a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast near a big national park, you're probably feeling the pain right now," he said.

Travel adviser Caroline Bach Wood, an affiliate of Travel Experts, is a national parks specialist. Wood said national park travelers during the holidays were largely unaffected because hotels and concessionaire-operated services were open. The biggest impact was the lack of interpretive staff at visitors centers.

"We are now entering the busiest booking window of the year, and based on the number of requests I'm receiving, I would say travelers believe the shutdown will end before their spring and summer trips will begin," she said.

However, Wood cautioned that a lengthy shutdown would have far-reaching impacts.

"I think if this doesn't get resolved soon, travelers will lose confidence, in which case it will have a huge negative impact on my business as well as that of guides, hotels, restaurants and other services that thrive on national park visitation," she said.

Outside of national parks, Peck said, ASTA is tracking reports of Global Entry enrollments being halted and interviews canceled.

The Society is also tracking news surrounding the TSA, whose workers are deemed essential and therefore must continue to do their jobs without pay until the shutdown ends. While the number of worker call-outs have increased since the shutdown started, airports said the impact on security lines is relatively small at this point.

"But you wonder, if this drags on for three, four or five weeks, people working without pay -- that's going to probably impact staffing," Peck said.

"If airport security screening operations are really impacted, that could cause people to start canceling trips," Peck continued.

With some 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown, he added, "it's going to have an economic impact on our industry and others."

"You can't forget that this is 800,000 people who presumably travel a couple times a year, and if they're not getting a paycheck or they have to go and find a new job, we know that in many cases travel is discretionary spend for your budget. That may start getting impacted," Peck said.

Passport processing is going on as usual, Peck said, because it is funded by passport application fees, not federal funds.

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