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In its April 29 industry-wide webinar, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) recapped the milestones — both the triumphs and the challenges — that the travel advisor community has faced throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, while highlighting the steps taken to ensure brighter days ahead.
“When times are good, the general orthodoxy is for government to defend the shore, deliver the mail, secure our rights and get out of the way,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA. “That good life that we experienced was way back in January 2020, when many agencies were reporting record sales. By the end of February, travel was in freefall, and by early March, the collective economic future of 335 million Americans was in the hands of our 535 elected representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
Advocacy UpdateGenevieve Strand, ASTA’s director of advocacy, reviewed the current coronavirus federal relief packages, such as the CARES Act; the new $484 billion “round 3.5” bill; and the up-and-coming round four relief package, which will be a top priority once Congress reconvenes in May. (Note: The Senate is set to return to Washington, D.C. on May 4, while the House of Representatives has recently announced it will delay its return.)
Because of ASTA’s efforts over the years, these 535 elected officials were no strangers to the association once the coronavirus outbreak hit, according to Kerby. In fact, he says much of the relief that proved to be most beneficial to travel agencies under the CARES Act was a direct result of the organization’s persistent lobbying efforts.
That good life that we experienced was way back in January 2020, when many agencies were reporting record sales. By the end of February, travel was in freefall, and by early March, the collective economic future of 335 million Americans was in the hands of our 535 elected representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Round 3.5 of the coronavirus relief package, which was signed into law late last week, increased funding for the depleted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by 88%, with $60 billion set aside specifically for smaller banks and credit unions. It also added $50 billion to the EIDL loan program (a 500% increase in funding from the CARES Act) and $10 billion for EIDL grants (a 100% increase in funding from the CARES Act). Unemployment benefit programs remained unchanged under the new legislation, but ASTA is working daily with state unemployment offices to get travel agencies and independent contractors (ICs) the benefits they qualify for. (Note: ASTA reminds ICs applying for unemployment benefits to not indicate that they have W-2 wages or are an employee of a host agency.)
ASTA is pushing for several additional improvements to the PPP in the next round of legislation, along with increased funding for ticket agents under the Treasury’s Economic Stabilization Loan program.
And it was less than 20% who had received unemployment. That’s why we’ve been pushing individual states really hard to get this up and running.
FAQs From AttendeesHundreds of webinar attendees submitted questions live via the webinar’s chat feature. One attendee asked if it was possible to apply for both unemployment benefits and the PPP.
“It depends,” Strand said. “The forgiveness requirements attached to the PPP might make it prohibitive if you’re also drawing unemployment. Taking those funds in to pay your own salary might interfere with your ability to collect unemployment. It depends on what you are using your loan for and how your business is structured.”
Another webinar participant, a part-time seller of travel with a full-time job in another industry, asked about his/her qualifications for unemployment benefits.
“We’ve heard from members who have tried to apply for unemployment if they’re also working a full-time job and travel is their part-time job,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to vary state by state, as every state is setting up the criteria. We’ve heard of a number of instances where advisors are turned down, and their states are not permitting this. But the best thing you can do is apply through your state, being completely honest about what your income is right now, and allowing them to make the determination about whether you qualify.”
Finally, when asked about what percentage of ASTA members have already received such benefits, Kerby said that the reports from about a week ago had been “unsatisfying.”
RELATED: CARES Act Benefits? These Advisors Are on Hold, Indefinitely
“It was in the high-20 percentage for those who qualify for and already received PPP loans,” he said. “And it was less than 20% who had received unemployment. That’s why we have been pushing individual states really hard to get this up and running.”
Focusing on the Bright SideThe webinar also included several tidbits of good news: Through ASTA’s China chapter, the association has donated hundreds of N-95 masks to hospitals in the Florida and Washington, D.C., area, with more on the way. Kerby also has nominated an EMT ambulance driver working on the front lines of the pandemic for next year’s annual “Vacation Do Over” competition. (The contest awards a consumer with a dream trip, planned at the hands of a trusted ASTA travel advisor.)
In addition, ASTA is asking its industry colleagues to join the celebration of National Travel Advisor Appreciation Day. It takes place on May 6 as part of National Travel and Tourism Week, which kicks off the first week of May. Advisors are invited to share their own success stories and follow the association’s #TravelHero campaign on www.travelsense.org, the organization’s consumer-facing website.
ASTA’s monthly industry-wide webinars, including this one, will be hosted on ASTA’s website. ASTA members are encouraged to utilize members-only resources here.
The DetailsAmerican Society of Travel Advisorswww.asta.org