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
"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.