Not long before President Trump signed the $2 trillion
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act into law on Friday,
ASTA executives detailed the Society’s work to get travel advisors included in
the bill’s relief measures.
ASTA held a webinar talking about the multiple provisions of
the Cares Act that could benefit members, ranging from new loans to unemployment
benefits for independent contractors.
President and CEO Zane Kerby called ASTA’s advocacy campaign
leading up to the act’s introduction “unprecedented.”
“This is what we are built for,” Kerby said. “No one could
have predicted today’s pandemic, but this crisis underscores the need for
collective action, to speak with one voice. For anyone who sells or dispenses
travel advice for a living, your voice is ASTA, bar none.”
Eben Peck, the Society’s executive vice president of
advocacy, said the road to travel advisor relief under the Cares Act was new
territory for ASTA. The trade group had no playbook but launched a
multi-faceted campaign to reach lawmakers.
It started on March 10, when Jay Ellenby, president of Safe
Harbors Business Travel in Maryland and a former ASTA board chairman, testified
the House Committee on Small Business. He talked about how badly hurt travel
retailers have been by the coronavirus outbreak.
“In normal times, this would have been the highlight of our
year, having a member testify before Congress,” Peck said. “The last time this
happened, I’m told, is 2002. But in this case, it was really just the beginning
of our work.”
Peck and ASTA staff members worked “around the clock” to
meet with members of Congress and their staff, he said, until Capitol Hill
closed down to the public on the afternoon of March 12 (Peck said he and
director of advocacy Genevieve Strand may have been one of the last in-person
meetings seen on the Hill).
After that, they shifted to making phone calls to
Simultaneously, ASTA launched a grassroots campaign that
“shattered every record in the books,” Peck said.
ASTA set up an online portal to send messages and make calls
to legislators. Since March 13, it has facilitated 28,604 messages.
Before the coronavirus crisis, the record number of messages
sent through the portal was 2,998, when ASTA lobbied to have advisors exempted
from a new worker-classification law in California
Peck also credited ASTA members who have attended its annual
Capitol Hill fly-in, Legislative Day, in recent years. The connections they
made then ensured someone picked up the phone when they called about
ASTA also leaned on allies within the travel industry. Its
request for relief was endorsed by the Global Business Travel Association, Association
of Corporate Travel Executives, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, National
Tour Association, Student & Youth Travel Association and U.S. Tour
ASTA’s objectives were two-fold, Peck said: If Congress gave
the travel industry targeted relief, travel agencies had to be included, and
the Society wanted to get as many options for relief as possible for members.
He believes the Society was successful on both fronts.
“There are long days ahead,” Kerby said. “It’s going to take
more than an all-clear from the CDC and WHO to restore confidence in the travel
system. We also have to stay vigilant in reminding suppliers that there is and
will be life after Covid-19, and they need to treat our members, and by
extension the traveling public, fairly. We are all in this together.”
ASTA is creating a members-only page featuring analysis of
the bill at asta.org/covid19member.