The Global Business Travel Association lent its support to the American Society of Travel Advisors as industry groups press Washington for financial aid. Some individual entities also are stepping up. Travel and Transport, for example, reached out to federal representatives from a dozen states to explain the dire state of travel management companies.

“A tremendous amount of federal money is about to flow into the U.S. economy and businesses impacted by the crisis will have multiple options for relief,” according to ASTA EVP for advocacy Eben Peck. “The question for us is, how specific? How specific to travel agencies/TMCs, or to travel companies generally? Obviously, we are focused now on getting dedicated money for the travel agency industry, but help is on the way one way or another.”

GBTA VP of government and community relations Shane Downey wrote in a March 17 letter that many GBTA members “turn to travel agencies and travel management companies, many of which are small, women-owned businesses. It is for this reason that GBTA supports the American Society of Travel Advisors’ efforts to include funding in any targeted financial relief for the travel sector.”

ASTA’s website indicated that GBTA would provide “lobbying resources” to assist ASTA.

Travel and Transport is among the travel companies reaching out to elected leaders to inform them of the impact on TMCs and ask that they be considered as part of travel industry relief packages. 

Kevin O'Malley, Travel and Transport
Travel and Transport CEO Kevin O’Malley

“We started in Nebraska,” said Kevin O’Malley, CEO of the Omaha-based TMC. Then it did the same in another 10 or 12 states where Travel and Transport has operations. About 1,500 of the company’s 1,800 employees are based in the United States.

“Yes, airlines, cruise lines and hotels need help, but so do we, and we are in the middle of them, feeding bookings,” said O’Malley during a Thursday interview. “The TMCs cannot be forgotten in those conversations.”

O’Malley said most TMCs’ transactions were down around 90 percent, prompting layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. The responses from representatives’ offices has been “generally positive,” he said.

A next step could be a joint letter from the largest TMCs and global distribution systems, according to O’Malley. Sabre on Friday announced that it began cutting $200 million in costs, including employee compensation.

Travel and Transport did not ask federal officials for any specific relief. “We debated, but decided to leave it open-ended,” O’Malley said. “Conversations are all over the board — payrolls taxes, grants, etc. If they ask for our input, we’ll provide it.”

ASTA’s request communicated to congressional leaders, and repeated in GBTA’s letter, did detail specific remedies. These included “$7.7 billion in grants to ticket agents … to compensate for reduced liquidity” resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. ASTA said the figure reflected “projected 2020 revenue loss.” Based on a survey two weeks ago of 1,500 members, the estimate is “almost certainly conservative,” according to ASTA.

ASTA also asked the federal government to back zero-interest loans to travel agencies, to fully fund President Trump’s request for an additional $50 billion in Small Business Administration loans and to provide tax relief.

Eben Peck, ASTA
Eben Peck, American Society of Travel Advisors executive vice president of advocacy

During a March 16 conference call, Peck said the key “ask” was that travel agencies get access to any support provided to the airlines. 

ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby noted that the group’s Corporate Advisory Council “voted unanimously to provide support from their war chests to double ASTA’s lobbying over the next three months.” The council is led by BCD Travel SVP Kathy Bedell, Balboa Travel chair Denise Jackson and Travelink/American Express vice chair Michael Dixon.

GBTA, meanwhile, signed a March 18 letter to Trump from a coalition of ground transportation trade groups asking that “private-sector passenger ground transportation companies” be designated as “essential to the American economy.” Among other measures, they also asked for “$12 billion in immediate cash grants to fleet operators.”

In addition to GBTA executive director Scott Solombrino, a former chauffeured car company executive, signatories included leaders of The Transportation Alliance, American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, Near Airport Parking Industry Trade Association, Airport Ground Transportation Association and the National Limousine Association. Solombrino until last year was a longtime NLA board member.

“Our industry is facing very real, crippling financial losses and tens of thousands of our workers have already been laid off,” according to the letter. “The crisis threatens to shutter critical and essential public transportation operations forever. … Never before have our disparate organizations come together in such a fashion, but we do so now because we desperately seek your help in these unprecedented and most challenging times amid the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Disclosures: The Company Dime works with multiple providers of events and research. That has included ASTA and GBTA chapters. Currently The Company Dime is working with the International Air Transport Association on research and with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ for its ACTEConnect community.

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