In a letter to Congressional leadership, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) requested that any targeted relief for the travel sector be open to travel agencies and not just the largest companies in the industry. “A scenario where the largest travel companies survive and recover from this crisis while the thousands of overwhelmingly small businesses that distribute their products are allowed to fail is an unacceptable outcome,” Eben Pen, EVP, advocacy says.
Due to the coronavirus crisis and its impact on travel, new business has largely come to a halt in the past few weeks and layoffs and agency closures have begun in earnest. In a recent survey of its members, ASTA found that 77 percent of ASTA agencies surveyed predicted they will be out of business in six months or less if current conditions hold.
ASTA’s requests to Congress, in addition to its previous requests regarding airline sector grants and loans, includes:
- Small Business Interruption Loans: In order for relief to flow to the largest part of ASTA’s membership, it’s requesting that a provision that appeared in an early draft of The Keeping Workers Paid and Employed Act, Division A of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (a $300 billion small business emergency economic relief plan that will help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic make payroll and cover expenses), expanding eligibility for relief to businesses up to 300 percent of the applicable SBA size standards be re-inserted. ASTA also asks that self-employed individuals are explicitly included ad recipients of this aid.
- Travel Employments Grants: While Division C of the CARES Act includes $150 billion in loan guarantees for distressed sectors of the American economy. Beyond the airlines, it is not specific to travel. As such, ASTA requests that Congress include the U.S Travel Association's (USTA) proposal to prove $150 billion in grants through the Treasury Department to travel-dependent businesses to maintain employment at pre-coronavirus levels. Travel was the first sector heavily impacted by the crisis and recovery will come slow after it passes. According to USTA, 4.6 million Americans—50 percent of the travel industry's workforce—could lose their jobs by the end of April if targeted travel industry relief is not provided.
- Unemployment Benefits for the Self-Employed: There are currently around 40,000 independent contractors working in the travel agency industry and their business income has seized up along with every other part of the industry. However, these self-employed individuals typically do not have access to federal and state unemployment benefits, as laid-off W-2 employees do. As such, ASTA requests that the final coronavirus response package incorporate the Coronavirus Worker Relief Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation will provide disaster unemployment assistance to people who are unable to work due to the current coronavirus outbreak, including self-employed individuals and ICs.
“While it will take years for the travel agency industry to recover from this crisis, taken together we believe the steps outlined above will help speed that recovery and put travel agencies in a position to serve clients once the economy rebounds,” Peck says.