How does advocacy help us?
ASTA, the national trade association for all travel agents and agencies, views advocacy as our collective voice, whether speaking to the government, the travel industry or the traveling public. We face a situation in which the government doesn’t know how our industry works, suppliers often try to cut agents from the equation, and a good chunk of the traveling public thinks agents are extinct. Through one voice, we can keep travel taxes manageable and fight onerous regulations while educating suppliers and consumers about the value travel agents provide to the broader industry and U.S. economy.
How does ASTA keep our industry healthy and protected?
Our goal is to keep business conditions at a place where agencies can grow their business and continue to provide value to consumers. If a state government wants to tax travel agency services or create absurd new consumer disclosure sets, we fight back. We calculate the tally of our 2015 state legislative "wins" at over $114 million per year in new taxes and fees agents would have had to pay—wins made possible by local ASTA and NACTA members responding to our grassroots calls to action, writing and calling legislators, testifying at committee hearings, writing Op-Eds ... At the federal level, an early Department of Transportation regulation draft would have forced agents to acknowledge their clients’ understanding of complex federal hazardous materials regulations in every air transaction, even over the phone. We fought back, saving our industry an estimated $58 million per year in startup, training and ongoing compliance costs.
Does ASTA advocate only federally?
We represent the interests of travel agents at all levels of government: federal (Congress and government agencies), state legislatures and regulators, even local governments. From air distribution to tax issues to security to labor regulations—there’s a lot of ground to cover. We couldn’t do this without committed chapter leaders and members in every state and Congressional district.
What is ASTAPAC?
ASTAPAC, a separate fund made up of voluntary contributions from ASTA members and member companies, is used for campaign contributions to current and aspiring Members of Congress—an extremely effective way to get our industry’s voice heard. We can engage in politics through ASTAPAC and have a say in decisions affecting us, or leave the field to the opposition and hope for the best. Without a strong PAC, we’re fighting with one hand behind our back—on ancillary fee transparency, independent contractor regulation, Cuba travel, tax reform—against well-funded opponents. During the last election cycle, airline PACS outraised and outspent ASTAPAC, 26 to 1!
What must host agencies know regarding independent contractor use?
In July 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance on how it will apply the Fair Labor Standards Act to the question of whether workers are classified as employees or independent contractors. The DOL view that "most workers are employees under the FLSA’s broad definitions" highlights the key question in determining "whether the worker is really in business for him or herself (an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (an employee)."
This is critical. The average ASTA member reports contracts with 10 ICs and upwards of 20,000 total ICs in the entire industry. This is a complex issue, with different DOL, IRS and state rules—some conflicting. DOL guidance could potentially put numerous ASTA members at risk of enforcement actions. We’ve heard no indications that DOL is targeting travel agencies; nonetheless, it’s a concern.
Eben Peck, Senior Vice President, Government & Industry Affairs, ASTA