Pushing the recovery forward and securing continued relief for hard-hit travel agencies will be among the primary policy focuses of the U.S. travel industry in 2022.
“We’ll continue to watch for variants of concern, but we’ll want to be vigilant that we don’t have a backslide to closures or more difficult entry requirements,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy.
Meanwhile, ASTA says that the travel agency workforce has been reduced by 40,000 since the start of the pandemic and that average travel agency revenues remain 71% below the pre-pandemic level.
Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president of advocacy, said its three primary legislative priorities for next year relate to financially assisting agencies or to spurring travel industry job recovery.
The Save Act, introduced in the House of Representatives in March, would make travel agencies eligible for federal grants of up to 45% of their 2019 gross revenue, with grants capped at $10 million.
The Hospitality & Commerce Job Recovery Act, introduced in the Senate in February, would support conventions and trade shows by establishing a tax credit to offset the cost of attending or hosting a convention through 2024. It would also provide a tax credit of up to $750 per person or $1,500 for a married couple for general travel expenses.
ASTA also is pushing for an extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit. The program, which provided a refundable tax credit of up to $7,000 per employee, per quarter for businesses whose revenue has been reduced by at least 20% as compared to 2019, expired at the end of September.
In early December, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a House bill to extend the credit through Dec. 31. ASTA supports that measure but would like to see the credit extended into next year, as well.
Peck acknowledged that with domestic leisure travel having rebounded, it has gotten harder for ASTA to explain to legislators that travel agencies continue to suffer from drop-offs in their bread-and-butter revenue sources of cruises, business travel and complicated international itineraries.
Funding matters are also a priority for U.S. Travel this year. Barnes said the trade group is engaged in lobbying for the Hospitality & Commerce Job Recovery Act and is also working to bring back deductions for business entertainment expenses, which were eliminated at the start of 2018.
In addition, U.S. Travel is pushing for $250 million in funding for Brand USA to make up for shortfalls in the fee revenue it would typically receive from incoming Visa Waiver travelers.
Pushing against travel bans
In the international travel arena, U.S. Travel plans to push hard against country-specific entry bans, like the one invoked by the U.S. and many other countries against southern African nations due to omicron.
Barnes acknowledged however, that broad global alignment on international travel requirements will likely remain elusive next year.
She also predicted that the federal mask mandate for air, train and bus travel will remain in place beyond its March 18 sunset date.