by Mia Taylor
Last updated: 3:16 PM ET, Wed November 7, 2018
As the dust settles after the historic 2018 midterm elections, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) is focusing on how the changed landscape will impact the organization's priorities.
The elections brought an end to two years of one-party rule. Democrats regained control of the US House of Representatives, as was expected, and Republicans expanded their control of the Senate.
While an overwhelming Blue Wave may not have materialized, the midterms brought a diverse class of newly elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.
During a post-election interview with TravelPulse, ASTA's Executive Vice President of Advocacy, Eben Peck, said the balance of power has not shifted substantially.
"We've been thinking about this a lot today," Peck told TravelPulse. "The landscape changed a little bit, but not dramatically."
Peck said the election's outcome was exactly what he expected, but added that the new landscape would change the outlook for some of the policy priorities ASTA is pursuing on behalf of its members including:
Independent Contractors-For years, Congressional Democrats have been advancing measures designed to crack down on the use of independent contractors (ICs), which is a key issue for ASTA given the estimated 20,000 independent contractors selling travel in the industry.
"While the overall regulatory environment for independent contractors at the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service is likely to remain favorable, we expect to see proposals from Congressional Democrats that would undo longstanding protections for businesses using independent contractors, force changes in business processes and massive new tax and compliance expenses," ASTA said.
"At the same time, the odds of passage of the IC-friendly Harmonization of Coverage Act just got that much steeper."
DOL Blacklist-The Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act, introduced last year by Republican Representative Francis Rooney would remove travel agencies from an arbitrary regulatory "blacklist" that blocks them from utilizing an exemption from federal overtime rules designed for retail businesses.
"While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, a Democratic-led House will be less inclined to give committee consideration or floor time to business-friendly bills of this nature. We will, of course, continue our work at DOL to get this done," said ASTA.
Cruise Ship Regulation-In years past, Democratic bills have been introduced in Congress to up federal oversight of the cruise industry while adding new disclosure burdens (with financial penalties and even jail time for non-compliance) for travel advisors who sell cruises, said ASTA.
"Next year we may see bills similar to these, which ASTA strongly opposes, introduced but unlikely to advance in a Republican-controlled Senate," said ASTA.
Cuba Travel-The election results are unlikely to change the dynamics on this particular issue, ASTA said.
In 2015, the Obama Administration opened up Cuba travel regulations as far as it could without changing the law, followed by President Trump rolling back some, but not all, of these changes in 2017.
"We may see Cuba travel liberalization provisions advance through the House next year, but no further," said ASTA.
"We don't anticipate the election changing the landscape there," added Peck with regard to Cuba. "The administration has a lot of authority there. Obama loosened things as much as he could and Trump tightened things a bit. You can still sell to Cuba but it's been a little bit harder. Our position is you should open Cuba up and we're going to keep pushing on that."
While Peck was hesitant to issue any overall comment on whether the election's outcome would be good or bad for ASTA and the travel industry, he said the organization will continue to keep working night and day to represent its members and create the best possible business environment.
"We play the cards we're dealt," said Peck, adding, "We have a diverse set of policy issues, from tax issues to labor to aviation security. We work with both parties on these issues and don't put all our eggs in one basket."
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