ASTA Details Its Latest Coronavirus Initiatives

ASTA detailed the latest next steps it is taking in its coronavirus relief efforts, the most notable of which is amendments to the CARES Act.

“I’ve talked to dozens of travel agency owners, and we’re looking at numbers in the 97 percent demand suppression right now, which is obviously a challenge for our businesses,” said ASTA President & CEO Zane Kerby.

“Obviously, ASTA has enormous resources on the government side. With the CARES Act being passed now, there are extraordinary problems with the distribution of money,” Kerby said, adding that the Society has asked its “entire advisor community to petition Congress to help fix what is wrong with the act right now.”

He added, “Frankly speaking, the Small Business Administration [SBA] was not prepared to administer programs that have been put into law by the CARES Act.”

One of ASTA’s key priorities is working on changes to the $349 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP). “The program is essentially out of money at this point — $349 billion was gone in about a week and a and a half,” said Ebon Peck, ASTA’s, executive vice president, advocacy. “Our members who have not applied can’t at this point.”

The Society is asking Congress to raise PPP funding to $750 billion and for the program to be extended to December 30, 2020.

ASTA also is asking that Congress provide additional funding for ticket agent loans. It said that applications were due April 17; so currently, there is “no way of knowing how much of this $25 billion will be set aside for travel agencies as opposed to airlines or repair stations, but it is unlikely to be enough to meet the needs of agencies across the country.”

Additionally, ASTA would like to see Congressional legislation relaxing fare rules, stopping the issuance of debit memos and ensuring that all airline tickets are fully refundable. It applauded the Airline Reporting Corporation’s debut memo and chargeback policies.

In other developments, ASTA is working with travel suppliers to work toward ensuring that existing refunds, cancellations and commissions are enforced as written, despite “the unforeseen nature of the circumstances necessitating the cancellation.”

“ASTA has learned of cases where tour operators are retaining traveler deposits, withholding agency commissions, and limiting compensation to credit for a future trip, one that in many cases will never be taken,” the Society said in a communiqué that was crafted with the help of its consortia and host agency partners. “In addition, and making matters worse, some tour operators and consolidators are refusing to refund travelers the cost of air tickets for flights that were canceled by the carrier and already refunded to the supplier.”

Last but not least, the Society is collecting stories from its travel advisor members who have come to the rescue of their clients. “We’re going to be rolling out a lot of these stories [on the ASTA website] in advance of National Travel Advisor Day on May 12,” said Kerby. “It’s inspiring to see the work ASTA members are doing, and really underscores the reason to use a trusted travel advisor.”

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