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 before 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 legislators.

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 last year.

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 coronavirus relief.

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 Operators Association.

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

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