Throughout 2013, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and its members have tackled pressing issues in the travel industry, accomplishing change on both federal and state levels on concerns affecting travel agents.
Acting as a voice for travel agents, ASTA, along with its members, have presented the industry’s case before regulators and members of Congress on critical DOT proceedings on airline ancillary fees, new distribution models and other issues of concern to travel agents. Some of the achievements include pushing Congress to overturn air traffic control furloughs that threatened widespread flight delays and cancellations in April, work that included nearly 1,700 member e-mails to Congress in less than 24 hours. In addition, ASTA and its members successfully opposed legislation to crack down on travel agencies’ use of “independent contractors,” a key issue as an estimated 9,500 contractors work in our industry.
Meanwhile in Virginia, Minnesota and Ohio, ASTA and its members successfully opposed proposals to subject agency gross sales and service fees to state sales tax that would have cost the industry $170 million per year in new taxes, campaigns that featured in-person legislative testimony by Mid-America President Chris Seddelmeyer and Upper-Midwest President Gloria Stock Mickelson.
In Tennessee, Utah, New Mexico, Ohio, Connecticut and Virginia, ASTA, its members, and allies such as the Travel Technology Association, successfully opposed proposals to subject agency hotel booking fees to state and local taxation.
ASTA also worked with the Pacific Northwest Chapter and Expedia, Inc., to kill a Washington state proposal to increase the tax rate on commission income, saving Washington agencies nearly $12 million over two years. Working with a coalition led by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, ASTA and its members also helped deregulate costly and complex travel insurance licensing in 21 states.
ASTA and its members are still tackling ongoing legislative priorities, such as ensuring the upcoming DOT rule provides agents and consumers with full access to airline ancillary fees and the ability to purchase the complete air transportation product. They are also continuing to oppose state proposals to apply sales and hotel occupancy taxes to agency fees and other income, and are working with industry allies to ensure travel agents have a voice in the implementation of the “Trusted Traveler” programs like TSA’s PreCheck and CBP’s Global Entry.
On the cruise front, ASTA is ensuring that legislation to increase cruise ship safety reflects travel agents’ robust role in the distribution of cruise travel. In addition, ASTA is supporting passage of the Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, which will streamline visa processes and help the U.S. recapture our historic share of worldwide overseas travel, as well as preserving the right for federal workers to travel responsibly, while holding accountable anyone who breaks the rules or squanders taxpayer dollars.
These advocacy efforts, along with ASTA’s most active and supportive travel professional members, were celebrated at this year’s Advocacy Dinner, held on Sept. 17 during the ASTA Global Convention in Miami.