A swirl of rhetoric and regulation in Washington is posing challenges to the corporate travel industry—from travel guidelines for companies receiving funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the more recent round of rhetoric regarding travel in the time of swine flu—and have taken center stage in the National Business Travel Association's lobbying efforts.
NBTA, which otherwise was focused on Federal Aviation Administration funding, Secure Flight and other Transportation Security Administration issues and U.S. entry policies as part of its legislative agenda, last month reported $50,000 in expenses related to lobbying during the first three months of the year through the Monument Policy Group. Monument's client roster also includes the U.S. Travel Association and companies outside of the travel industry.
"I've been doing work for the travel industry in this type of role for the past three years, and it's been the busiest few months I've ever seen," says Monument founder and partner Stewart Verdery, NBTA's government affairs consultant. "That's because the industry is under a lot of stress."
"We put together a policy agenda at the beginning of the year and two things that weren't on it, which has probably made us the most busy, were the meetings regulation issues—the TARP stuff—then more recently the flu. It's interesting how quickly things change," Verdery says.
Influenza A (H1N1), more commonly known as swine flu, has been more a matter of making "sure that the politicians and the officials understand that rhetoric has impacts and to be very careful in the way they describe what the rule should be for travel in the U.S., to the U.S. and to other countries. Those types of things can have tremendous impacts," Verdery says. "The TARP stuff has been more complicated. It's part government, part media and part corporate behavior. Congress passed something that said they have to require boards of directors to have policies, but they didn't really say what those policies have to be, and they haven't implemented that. We expect that to happen relatively soon."
Verdery says the Treasury Department is expected to release guidelines on meetings and travel for companies that have received TARP funds. "It's kind of unusual. We're actually asking Treasury to do more than what the law requires. We'd like them to give some certainty to the marketplace that travel is okay and, especially for the non-TARP companies who are worried about a bad press story, that travel is just as much a part of their business, as purchasing, IT or advertising and all the other things you need to do to make a profit."
NBTA, meanwhile, continues to push on matters already on the radar before the industry became embroiled in matters of TARP funds and flu.
This week NBTA praised the inclusion of "legislative language" in the House's TSA reauthorization bill that the association says will enhance the Registered Traveler program's "risk management and traveler facilitation potential." The provision builds on recommendations NBTA released in January as part of its government agenda, which encouraged TSA to "resume and expand the security threat assessments for RT members to allow for security checkpoint benefits."
TSA in July last year abandoned the security threat assessment and relinquished some involvement in the program. NBTA president Kevin Maguire this week said, "We also continue to urge that TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection should integrate RT with international trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry to make enrollment more convenient for frequent travelers."
Source: Business Travel News