On Tuesday, August 6, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and the California Coalition of Travel Organizations (CCTO) held their joint lobbying day to fight California Assembly Bill (AB) 5. With the California Senate on recess through August 12, ASTA, the CCTO and their consortia and host agency partners met with state Senators with the goal of securing an exemption for the travel industry in the bill when the Senate takes it up after recess. Twenty-four of 35 meetings requested took place; California has 40 state Senators.
“When it comes to advocacy, there is nothing more impactful than an in-person meeting, so your efforts are critical,” ASTA said in a statement. “If the bill is not amended, it will be hugely disruptive to our industry in California and beyond.”
Regarding the event, Eben Peck, EVP, advocacy, tells Luxury Travel Advisor, “I think it went very well—the feedback that we've gotten has been extremely positive. Getting constituents in front of their state senators is the most important thing we can do at this stage. We need to get a direct pressure on the legislators. Emails go a certain distance, phone calls are good, too, but there's nothing quite like an in-person meeting.”
Melissa Varela, president and CEO of Modern Romance Travel, based in the Bay Area, agreed. "Overall, I definitely feel that we did make some some sort of impact."
Varela tells us, in her group, were five agency owners (herself included) and three independent contractors (ICs). "What really helped in our meeting was we went around the room and we shared our personal stories about our own agencies, our clientele and who we service. And I think that really hit home with our district rep." Her group informed their rep that they service over 60,000 clients, and Varela says the rep was surprised with how far of a reach travel advisors have.
She adds that her rep was very interested in the stories that each of the advisors shared and requested digital copies of the infographics and leave-behinds they brought. Varela also says the rep sent her a follow-up email directly after the event.
According to ASTA and CCTO, over 160 people attended a meeting on or around August 6. “Everyone at this point understands how disruptive [AB 5] would be. The usage of ICs [in the travel industry] is prevalent, and has been growing over the past few years, and this bill threatens to disrupt that,” he says.
Modern Romance Travel, which is only a few years old, has two ICs and two employees, Varela says; however, she tells us that she likely wouldn't be able to employ her ICs. Rather, Varela is looking into creating a separate host entity, which is one of the five options that ASTA offered agency owners should AB 5 pass without a travel industry exemption. "I need to make sure it's a viable option with a travel lawyer, but that would probably be the route that I take."
Varela adds that it's more than just agency owners and ICs who would be affected by the bill—it's everyone in the industry. "It's important for our partners who we work with... I think that helps, too, when you have good partners in the hotel and tour operator industry who are reminding their agents [to fight AB 5] because it affects them, too. So, as an industry we need to come together and really show our district senators that this bill has a direct impact on their local community."
Next, the California Senate appropriations committee will host a meeting on Monday, August 12. It will then go to the full Senate, where the deadline for a vote will be September 13. “It takes a little while to educate folks, but I think people are really keyed in right now, so they're aware of the threat. We're working in as hard as we can. I think we have a little bit more time to get job done," Peck says.
In the meantime, Peck says ASTA will be looking at the feedback from the lobby day to see which representatives expressed a willingness to help. ASTA will provide them with “everything they need to press our case with the decision-makers.”
For advisors who did not attend the lobby day, ASTA’s grassroots portal allows you to contact your senator, send a letter to the editor to your local paper and stay up to date on the fight. Since this portal's launch, 2,016 California travel advisors have sent 2,709 advocacy messages (calls and emails) to their legislators, while 178 agency/IC clients have send 217 messages and 243 California advisors sent 2,826 letters to the editor to their local media outlets.