ASTA YPS Members Take On Capitol Hill

ASTA YPS president Ryan McGredy gives a personal account of YPS' Member's Only Day in Washington, D.C. By: Ryan McGredy
ASTA's Young Professional Society holds its first-ever Advocacy Day. // C 2012 Jason Coleman
ASTA's Young Professional Society holds its first-ever Advocacy Day. // C 2012 Jason Coleman

If you're like most travel professionals, your eyes gloss over when you hear the word "advocacy." The same is true for many members of ASTA's Young Professionals Society (YPS), a special interest chapter for ASTA members who are under the age of 40 years old. But the concept and role of advocacy took on new life for a group of YPS members during a recent trip we organized to Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Nov. 30, YPS held its first-ever advocacy-themed Member's Only Day, called Advocacy Day. Washington fly-in meetings are not new for ASTA, but the organization had not hosted one of these events in several years and this was the first time YPS participated as a group. Without question, restarting the ASTA tradition of Washington fly-in meetings establishes YPS' leadership role in the organization as well in the overall travel industry.

Advocacy is crucial to our industry. More than any supplier action or consumer trend, the U.S. government has the ability to make or break our travel businesses through taxation and regulation. To be effective advocates, it's critical to have an understanding of how the process works. Therefore, our Advocacy Day started at ASTA's headquarters in Alexandria, Va., with an "Advocacy & Hill Meetings 101" tutorial.

Eben Peck, ASTA's vice president of government affairs, led a range of D.C.-based government affairs professionals who briefed us on the importance of ASTA members becoming advocates for their industry before federal and state governments. He also discussed the role of ASTA's government relations and why travel agents are critical to the process. We also received background information about Congress and first-hand, expert advice about how to conduct a successful meeting with Congressional staff.

Next, we were schooled on ASTA's public policy issues. This was illuminating for everyone at the table. There is so much important work going on behind the scenes that it's almost impossible for a travel agent member to digest it all. ASTA's federal and state policy agenda includes topics such as transparency of airline ancillary fees, hotel occupancy taxes, protecting independent contractors, travel insurance licensing, increasing international visitors to the U.S., protecting the freedom to travel and many others.

With the classroom session complete and everyone well-versed on the issues, it was time to head to Capitol Hill to prepare for our meetings with Congressional staffs. Our preparation included meeting with three Washington insiders for an informal discussion over lunch.

First up was Chris Cillizza, author of The Fix, "The Washington Post's" popular political blog. But most participants recognized him from his television appearances on MSNBC, Fox News and CNN. Cillizza provided an interesting perspective on the recent election and what it means for the country going forward.

We were also treated to two additional guests who discussed the Congressional agenda for the travel industry: Holly Woodruff, staff director for the House transportation and infrastructure committee's subcommittee on aviation, and Kathy Kraninger, professional staff member for the House homeland security appropriations subcommittee.

Finally, attendees broke out into small groups to attend pre-scheduled meetings with staff from their local Congress member's office. Representatives included: Sen. Feinstein (Calif.), Sen. Boxer (Calif.), Rep. Lance (N.J.), Rep. Brady (Pa.), Rep. Yarmuth (Ky.) and Rep. Marchant (Texas).

Following the congressional staff meetings and a personal tour of the Capitol building (which was a big highlight), we reconvened to debrief and discuss our experiences. We can say with certainty that YPS left an impression, as the staff members with whom we met were overwhelmingly interested in what we had to say. Several even solicited our opinions and perspective on the issues.

All in all, the 2012 ASTA YPS Member's Only Day was a highly successful event. Participants learned about ASTA's advocacy efforts while influential Congressional staffers were exposed to ASTA's message not only about policy priorities, but also the value of using a travel agent.

One of the key takeaways was how important advocacy is, and how influential working travel agents are to that process. ASTA members do the best they can with limited staff, but they are lobbyists. Our industry's message is much more amplified when it comes from a working travel professional and, even more importantly, a constituent.

Imagine how much more effective our industry would be if more professionals got involved in the process. For us, it was one day in 2012. For you, it could be one hour to meet in your state or Congress representative's local office. At the very least, you could spend 15 minutes to write a letter or send an email. Or better yet - join us in Washington, D.C. in 2013.

Ryan McGredy is president of ASTA's Young Professionals Society. He owns Moraga Travel in Northern California.

ASTA's Young Professionals Society (YPS) is a special interest chapter for members of the American Society of Travel Agents who are under the age of 40 years old. YPS was created in 2002 with the purpose of providing members with networking, education and career development opportunities.