At long last, election season is finally reaching its home stretch. The race has certainly been heavy on plot twists — and light on substance. I’m especially disappointed that neither candidate has said much about travel and tourism as an economic stimulus or as a means to improving our image in the world, although at least Barack Obama got a chance to use his passport this summer.
Before we cast our votes and the politicians go back to their partisan bickering, it might be worth one last attempt to address an issue of concern facing our industry and our nation. With the one-two punch of high oil prices combined with a recession, the travel industry is facing extraordinary times. If ever there were a need for our legislators to step up and offer creative solutions, this is it.
I think most consumers would be surprised by the amount of their airfare that goes to cover taxes and governmental fees. On most domestic flights, hidden taxes and fees can run $20 to $40 per ticket, while international fees can be two to three times more. These fees amount to quite a sum when multiplied by the number of tickets sold each day. Rather than watching the airlines slowly chip away at customer service, and — God forbid — safety, given the state of the economy and the importance of the airlines to a wide range of businesses, this might be a good time to think about offering the airlines relief from these costs as a means of offsetting their oil expenses.
I’m not suggesting we completely subsidize air travel, but a temporary suspension of the highest taxes and fees might be a good way to lend a helping hand to the travel industry. What’s more, legislators could dangle the suspension of fees like a carrot, getting airlines to finally adopt a mandatory passengers’ bill of rights. Airlines that want the tax/fee relief would have to sign on to the idea that passengers deserve to have certain minimum expectations met. Of course, as a travel agent, this plan would benefit your clients with lower airfares, as well as the promise of better service.
As I said, the taxes and governmental fees could be suspended temporarily, giving legislators the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the plan. However, a strategy that makes it easier and cheaper for people to travel, as well as more pleasant, may just be what the industry, and our economy, needs right now. — K.S.