Retailers make case for agent-friendly policies on Capitol Hill

Members of the ASTA Texas delegation met with Rep. Beto O'Rourke (back row, second from left).
Members of the ASTA Texas delegation met with Rep. Beto O'Rourke (back row, second from left).

WASHINGTON -- Travel agents gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, holding more than 120 meetings in the offices of senators and representatives to push for better policies for travel agents.

Organized by ASTA as part of its annual Legislative Day event, almost 150 travel agents from Oregon to Florida came to the capital, more than four times since 2014, when ASTA launched the event with 35 members.

Travel agents focused on three policy issues: the Senate's version of the FAA reauthorization bill with its series of mandatory disclosures agents would have to make when selling travel over the phone or in person; the Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act, a bill that would enable some agencies to qualify for a retail exemption from overtime regulations; and asking Congress to harmonize the definition of an independent contractor, which is currently defined differently by the IRS and the Department of Labor. 

Susan Spain, Virtuoso's director of strategic growth and global member partnerships, was part of the delegation of members from Texas that met with Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Beto O'Rourke (D-TX). Both representatives were very supportive, she said. 

"We've already begun implementing a resolution for not having to verbally make the FAA disclosures, and Sessions was very supportive of that," Spain said, adding that he wanted the agents to keep in touch with him on the issues. "It was very encouraging."

O'Rourke, she said, listened to the issues and said that what the agents were asking for "sounds fair" and was "common sense."

"He realized it's not partisan, it's just about us being able to run our businesses," Spain said. 

This was Spain's second time attending Legislative Day and noted one major difference than in years past: It was the first year her delegation met with the member of Congress rather than staffers.

Rick Ardis of Ardis Travel in East Rutherford, N.J., was here for the third time and said that participating is a "good lesson in civics" and important for the industry. 

"It's our job and our privilege to enlighten them because if we don't, they may continue with the wrong impression of the business and the reality of how the legislation affects both the business and the traveler," he said. 

He also noticed that representatives and their staff have progressively become more receptive to ASTA members.

"They are more aware of the travel agent industry and that it never went away," he said.

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