Robin Amster | July 28, 2016 12:00 PM ET
Decision 2016 and Travel
Presidential elections have always had the potential to bring about significant change in just about every area of our lives, from the economy to social issues to laws that affect us all in at least some way.
Yet this election somehow feels different than others, more fraught than past elections, even frightening. Certainly, there’s been an endless amount of drama to heighten those feelings.
I think it’s safe to say that regardless of where you stand on each candidate—and the choice between the two is an especially stark one—there’s a lot at stake in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.
The stakes are no less high for the travel industry, which is facing a host of extremely important issues.
“This is certainly an interesting election for our industry, with a former Secretary of State who has traveled the world on one hand and someone with a financial stake in the hospitality industry on the other,” says Eben Peck, ASTA’s senior vice president of government and industry affairs. “While ASTA does not endorse Presidential candidates, we are watching closely and plan to dig into the candidates’ policy agendas as they get fleshed out looking for issues of concern to the travel agency community and the broader travel industry.
“We’ll be looking for policies that create an environment in which Americans are free to choose where, when and how to travel. An environment that doesn’t try to unduly tax travel agencies or unfairly impose onerous and unnecessary regulations on small businesses.”
ASTA’s policy priority list from its recent Legislative Day includes:
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012—The reauthorization of this legislation involves debates on air travel distribution issues and, according to ASTA, “The stakes in these debates couldn’t be higher for ASTA members.” The association says policy makers are interested in adding another mandated disclosure for travel agents; one that would require agents to tell families flying together that they might not be able to sit together. Failure to disclose that would constitute an “unfair or deceptive practice.”
The Transparent Airfares Act—This airline-supported legislation, which was added to the FAA bill, would overturn the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) 2012 full-fare advertising rule which says that advertised airfares must prominently state the full and final price consumers pay, including all government taxes and fees. Charges included within the total price can be listed separately, as long as the total price is displayed more prominently than the individual components. Repeal of the rule would undermine a key consumer protection principle that “ASTA holds dear – that consumers should know the full cost of air travel before purchasing a ticket.”
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act—President Obama’s 2014 agreement between the U.S. and Cuba was aimed at easing the long-standing restrictions on trade and other interactions between the two countries, including preventing American citizens from traveling to Cuba. While ASTA calls the Administration’s recent actions on Cuba a step in the right direction, it notes that general tourist travel remains banned under current law. It’s up to Congress to finally remove the travel ban. ASTA’s supports the recent Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act that would repeal the ban.
While we’re looking ahead, though, let’s also take a look back at the Obama administration’s record on travel. In fact, look no further than Cuba and the President’s historic 2014 announcement to open the Cuban market.
“All told, President Obama has had a positive record in terms of the travel industry,” according to Peck. “He rebounded from appearing to advocate against travel to Las Vegas by creating the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA), establishing the National Travel and Tourism Strategy in 2012 with its goal of 100 million visitors to the U.S. by 2021, and opening the Cuba travel market as much as the underlying law allowed.”
It’s not all positive, though.
“At the same time, he [the President] not once but twice—in 2011 and 2013—questioned the existence of travel agents and his Administration is on the verge of burdening small business travel agencies with an extremely disruptive set of new overtime regulations more than doubling the salary threshold under which virtually all workers are eligible for time-and-a-half pay,” Peck added.
So let’s just say the Obama Administration’s travel record is a bit of a mix.
On the eve of the 2016 election, though, the bigger question is how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on travel.
While ASTA won’t endorse one candidate over another, Peck does offer some thoughts based on the facts surrounding Clinton and Trump’s positions. But there are precious few facts. As Peck says, “Neither has commented directly or to any extent on issues we care about.”
Still, he continues, “In October 2015, Secretary Clinton commented on oil prices and airline tickets and fees, echoing many of ASTA’s concerns about industry concentration, saying “Over the past year, oil prices have fallen from over $100 a barrel to under $50, and the price of jet fuel has dropped more than a dollar per gallon. But the four major airlines—down from 10 airlines just 15 years ago—are charging as much as ever for tickets, even as they hit travelers with extra fees, for everything from checking a suitcase to picking a seat when they fly home for the holidays.”
In May, though, Clinton opposed Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) entry into the U.S. market,” Peck points out. That’s contrary to ASTA and other travel industry groups’ position that NAI be allowed to operate here in light of the dearth of competition in the airline industry, especially on trans-Atlantic routes.
On to Trump who also hasn’t said much about travel industry issues, Peck notes.
However, Peck adds that several observers at the recent NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference expressed concern about his rhetoric. That included Loews Hotels & Resorts Chairman Jonathan Tisch, who warned that taking a “Fortress America” approach, making it harder for overseas travelers to enter the U.S., puts the domestic hospitality industry at risk by potentially repeating the damage caused by policies undertaken in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Speaking of “Fortress America,” Trump has made his position on immigration clear, calling for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, ending birthright citizenship, and creating tougher penalties for overstaying a visa.
These and other issues have taken polarization in this year’s election to new heights.
Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs, for the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), has written, “The 2016 election cycle has been remarkably volatile, and comes on the heels of a volatile year for policies that affect the travel industry.
“From major national security threats to fierce opposition to pro-competition policies that help travelers, many of the U.S. Travel Association’s greatest priorities were in danger of being set back,” Grella added.
USTA’s agenda includes ensuring that airport modernization solutions are part of any FAA reauthorization bill, further defending the Visa Waiver Program, and protecting Open Skies agreements and other pro-competition and pro-traveler programs.
USTA—like ASTA—won’t endorse either candidate. It’s not what they do. But both pledge to work with whoever the next president is.
USTA President and CEO Roger Dow put it this way, "While there's been a lot of partisan rancor, travel is bipartisan and we have a history of successful collaboration with presidential administrations from both sides of the political aisle.
“We will work with the next president, whoever it may be, to make sure that the U.S. enacts smart policies that welcome legitimate travelers to our country, and keep us open and connected to our ever-changing world."
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