Published on : Saturday, October 2, 2021
The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) led a group of Active tour operator and Associate Members to Washington, D.C., in late September to advocate for a number of key issues for the industry. More than 20 attendees from around the country met with nearly 20 offices across Capitol Hill, including multiple Congressional delegations, two members of Congress, three Executive Branch officials, and two industry representatives.
“The timing of the caucus was certainly fortuitous, just days after the Biden Administration announced the reopening of U.S. borders in November, which was a top priority for our members, and added particular urgency to many of the issues discussed,” said USTOA President & CEO Terry Dale.
The morning began with virtual remarks from Stephen Neuman, Vice President, Global Government Affairs for American Airlines, who spoke about the airline’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) Executive Vice President, Advocacy, Eben Peck focused on ASTA’s policy priorities and how the two associations are aligned on several issues, the SAVE Act, and extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit program, among others.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) addressed the group on the SAVE Act, encouraging USTOA’s membership to contact their Members of Congress to urge its passage. His office is involved in the Travel and Tourism Omnibus legislation, and he talked about his plans to continue to work with USTOA on shared priorities to bolster the industry.
Kim Graber, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings for the US Department of Transportation, next spoke on aviation consumer protection issues, including the dramatic increase in formal complaints to DOT during the pandemic, and other issues tour operators, airlines, and DOT can work on together.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) addressed the group virtually on all aspects of travel and tourism and her support of the industry. A long-time advocate of USTOA, she clearly understood tour operator challenges and that this vital group of the industry has received no direct relief. As co-chair of the House Travel and Tourism Caucus, she noted how important USTOA is to Las Vegas and the rest of her district, which is so reliant on travel and tourism, and is committed to looking into visa/passport issues. She also addressed the restart of international travel.
Doug Lentz, Chief of Concessions, Grand Canyon National Park & Kurt Rausch, Commercial Services Program Chief for the National Park Service, focused on how the Grand Canyon’s work to date with USTOA is an ideal example of how industry and government can work together to achieve shared goals. In particular, he cited the success of USTOA’s idea to create the conditional Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) which allowed the Grand Canyon to approve CUAs up front, and then issue them once the park reopened from Covid restrictions.
Per USTOA’s adherence to strict health and vaccination protocols, the caucus was hybrid with a mix of virtual and in-person meetings in which delegates discussed several key points with members of Congress, including the importance of keeping to the November date to reopen the US borders to international visitors, the importance of testing, passport and visa processing times, direct Covid-19 relief for tour operators, restoration of the Employee Retention Tax Credit, increased funding for Brand USA, expeditious passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and national parks CUA issues and palatable operating procedures for the industry.
Said Dale, “The caucus was particularly meaningful and successful this year in communicating to members of Congress the significance of the travel and tourism industry to jobs and economic stability in the US, and specifically, how our members contribute to the economy and should be eligible for relief in light of catastrophic hardship over the past 18 months. We are extremely grateful to our members who participated and appreciative of the time each speaker and member of Congress spent with the USTOA teams.”