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“We are going to the Hill, we are going make a difference and we are going to make things happen” – Dianne Bradley, Chair of GBTA’s Government Relations Committee.
Dianne, together with and Mike McCormick, GBTA Executive Director and COO, kicked off GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015 by welcoming the more than 90 members who flew in to meet with their local lawmakers to discuss key issues, ranging from industry opposition to passenger facility charges (PFCs) to concerns about discriminatory rental car taxes.
Looking out into the full room, Dianne recalled back to her first legislative symposium, noting how transforming the trip was for her. She called on the attendees to find their passion and enthusiasm in the issues affecting the business travel industry.
When he took the stage, Mike provided the group with an update on key issues that go beyond the core issues that will be addressed during Legislative Symposium. Those issues include:
Cellphones on Planes: GBTA has engaged in a broad coalition to ensure federal agencies are considering security concerns and will move to prohibit expanded voice calls and broadband (streaming) Internet on planes. GBTA’s concern isn’t only about the “nuisance factor,” Mike noted. “It’s not about 32A fighting with 32B.” GBTA is concerned that the security risk factor goes up considerably when you introduce these enhanced communications capabilities on a flight.
Data: GBTA is a member of the US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and chair of a subcommittee on Data. The subcommittee is pushing to obtain funding for improved surveying and tracking of international travel.
NDC: GBTA participated in the New Distribution Capability Forum meeting along with IATA, Open Allies and other airlines, travel agents and GDA companies.
Open Skies: GBTA has met with agency, industry, lobbyist and airline officials about the Open Skies debate.
Stay tuned for more updates throughout the day from GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015. Follow the conversation on twitter with #GBTALegislative15.
Before GBTA members take to Capitol Hill tomorrow to deliver business travel messages to Congress, Greg McDonald of Cornerstone Government Affairs provided an overview of the 114th Congress.
By the Numbers:
Republicans have their first majority in the Senate in eight years, however, that may not necessarily translate into success for them, as 60 votes are needed to prevent a filibuster and a 2/3 majority is necessary to override a veto. The House has a large Republican majority – the largest since the Truman Administration and 12 more than at the end of the 113th Congress.
What does Congress have on the agenda?
Both the House and the Senate plan to have more weeks in session this year than in the past – 34 for the House and 39 for the Senate. They will have to focus on some perennial issues, such as the 2016 fiscal year budget and appropriations process as well as defense and intelligence authorizations. In addition, Congress will face deadlines on longer-term issues that need to be addressed and once-in-a-generation items are on Members’ wish lists too, such as immigration overhaul and a tax code rewrite. The debt limit and spending will also be a big debate in Congress this fall.
With everything that Congress has on its plate, it is important for our industry to educate them on issues important for business travel. Check out this post for a rundown of some of the key issues our members will be taking to the Hill tomorrow.
What is the number one way to influence a member of Congress? Citizens have more power than they realize – personal communications from constituents make all the difference. 46 percent of Congressional staff report that in-person visits from constituents had “a lot of positive influence” on Members/Senators, compared to 8 percent who had the same thing to say about lobbyists. Ned Monroe, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, joined GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015 to discuss the power of constituents and share six steps GBTA members can take to stay engaged and keep the momentum when they go home.
Step 1: Work with your Government Relations Team
If your company has a government relations team, work with them when you return home and report back on what you’ve learned while in D.C.
Step 2: Visit your Home Office
All Senators and Members of Congress have offices in their state or district in addition to an office in Washington, D.C. Ned recommends scheduling a meeting during a Congressional recess when the lawmaker is likely at home.
Step 3: Attend Earned Media Events
After your meeting, attend an event where your lawmaker may be in attendance. You may also want to consider writing a letter to the editor, op-ed or blog post thanking your lawmaker for the meeting.
Step 4: Social Media
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are critical to further engaging with lawmakers and their staff outside of one-on-one meetings. Ned recommends tweeting at the lawmaker, thanking him or her for the meeting and posting photos on the lawmaker’s Facebook page. Posting a thank you on LinkedIn, is also helpful in increasing the impact of your visit.
Step 5: Participate in Campaigns
If appropriate, Ned recommends participating in local political campaigns. This could involve anything from attending events or fundraisers to helping with posting yard signs.
Step 6: Contribute to PACs
Contributing to a PAC that supports your views on issues important to you can help give your donation a larger impact as it is pooled with other PAC contributors.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a major champion of business travel and someone The Washington Post called a rising star of the Democratic Party spoke to GBTA members as part of today’s Legislative Symposium.
Sen. Klobuchar led off joking about the weather in Minnesota as she lauded the business community for being able to draw the NFL Super Bowl in 2018 after a winter that saw temperatures dip down to negative 41 degrees before wind-chill and even measure colder than on Mars one day!
As a strong supporter of Brand USA, she was proud of the bipartisan work to make it happen and was pleased to see it reauthorized last December. The mission of Brand USA is to encourage increased international visitation to the United States and to grow America’s share of the global travel market.
Other upcoming issues important to Sen. Klobuchar are the JOLT Act, comprehensive immigration reform, FAA reauthorization and NextGen. Her major focus right now and over the last three years has been speeding up travel visas to better facilitate travel to the United States. Finally, she discussed pushing the bill to lift the embargo with Cuba as she was really struck by tourism potential there.
Following her remarks, GBTA members had the chance for a Q&A with Sen. Klobuchar digging deeper into her insights in to issues important to business travel.
Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) today earned a round of applause from attendees at GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015 after stating that the appropriations bill that just came out of his Transportation Subcommittee did not include an increase to the passenger facility charge (PFC). Although he noted that there is a long road ahead, Diaz Balart said he didn’t expect the PFC cap to go up while Republicans were leading the House and Senate.
Shifting focus to the FAA, Diaz Balart explained that he believes his subcommittee has written a responsible bill that ensures vital programs, like NextGen, are funded.
Hailing from South Florida, Diaz Balart understands the importance of travel and tourism, positing that a viable, efficient and safe transportation system is vital to the future of our tourism industry.
Rep. Diaz Balart had a very different take on lifting the Cuba embargo than Sen. Klobuchar, who spoke before him, leading to a spirited debate between the Representative and attendees. It is moments like this that show your voice does matter and it is amazing to live in a country where you can have an open and honest debate with a member of the government.
Isabel Hill, director of the National Travel and Tourism Office at the U.S. Department of Commerce, today detailed how her office is seeking to make travel to the United States easier through a range of programs, from helping people get visas faster to improving the customer experience in airports. In an age where everything is online, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face communication, Hill told attendees at GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015.
Travel and tourism is a vital part of the U.S. economy, accounting for 2.6 percent of the GDP. Hill noted that while this number might not sound large, it is a huge segment of the economy, which also accounts for eight million U.S. jobs.
In addition to making it easier for travelers to get visas, the National Travel and Tourism Office, has worked to increase the longevity of visas for Chinese travelers to the United States from five years to 10 years. After the change was made, requests for visas rose by 60 percent.
Together with Brand USA, the Office is also seeking to increase international travel to the United States. One priority: improving the U.S. arrivals experience. Hill explained that her office is working with Homeland Security and developed airport action plans for the nation’s largest airports. “We are already seeing results,” Hill told the group. She also called on members to get involved in their communities. According to Hill, we have seen unparalleled work and cooperation between public and private sectors.
Congresswoman Lois Frankel welcomed GBTA’s Legislative Symposium attendees to Washington, D.C. saying, “there is nothing more important that having citizen lobbyists.” She said there are so many issues that come in front of Congress that they depend on folks like those in the room who have practical experience to share their ideas on what works and doesn’t work, because Congress is making policies that will impact people’s lives.
As someone who loves to travel and travels often for business, Frankel said she is on a plane or a train every single week. She has been to airports all over the world seeing the good, the bad and the ugly, and has rode on high speed trains in France and China along with slow trains here too.
Frankel said she was especially glad GBTA members came to D.C. to talk to her colleagues about the importance of a modern transportation infrastructure, improved rail and planes that arrive on time, along with the importance of programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
Transportation moves our economy and infrastructure investments have major economic benefits, she told attendees.
As a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, she said the good news is the committee works really well together with a strong bipartisan approach. More good news for travel: the House recently passed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act, which will put a lot of money back into Amtrak and will allow for critical improvements making the railways safer and more efficient.
Next up, she says, is finally reauthorizing the FAA bill.
“We cannot afford to wait,” Congresswoman Frankel said wrapping up, but not before giving attendees a mission for their day on the Hill: You know as well as anyone how important it is to have modern transportation infrastructure. It’s how you and almost every business in the country make a living. If we don’t have efficient transportation and modern infrastructure, we are going to lose out to competition and you need to deliver that message.
“We want Amtrak to work. We want Amtrak to be profitable,” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) told attendees at GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015. During the event, Denham discussed his commitment to Amtrak and the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives.
Denham also detailed a few of his priorities, including ensuring that profits made by Amtrak along the Northeast Corridor should remain along the Northeast Corridor and help with ridership there. The lawmaker also asserted that rail infrastructure needs to be improved, pointing out that although the United States is in the lead on freight rail, we are falling behind on passenger rail.
Meanwhile, Denham recommended getting creative with paying for these improvements, including using oil royalties or repatriation.
“We have the opportunity to move the country forward,” Denham said. “But it’s going to take bipartisan work.”
(We also thank Rep. Denham for revealing the secret to getting Republicans and Democrats to work together: their love of dogs. Denham has sponsored legislation that would require Amtrak to develop a pet policy for rail passengers.)
Rep. John Katko (R-NY) today told attendees at GBTA Legislative Symposium 2015 that he plans on introducing bipartisan legislation that would put an end to managed inclusion in PreCheck – the practice of enabling travelers who have not been screened for PreCheck to go through the PreCheck lane.
“Managed inclusion defies the logic of what PreCheck is,” Katko told attendees.
Katko added that he plans on calling on TSA to enable airports to set up PreCheck kiosks within their buildings where travelers could sign up for the program and then later participate in the follow-up interview. If PreCheck was overseen by the private sector, this would have already happened, Katko asserted.
Katko further said he plans on expanding the Visa Waiver Program, although he stressed that security is paramount. We need to ensure that our foreign partners are screening participants properly, and that together we find a way to properly track the thousands who are traveling to Syria to fight for ISIS, Katko explained.
Although Katko is new to Congress – he has already made an impact. Early in the session, Katko learned about a traveler who was able to fly with a backpack full of guns, thanks to a loophole in security that enables employees with airport access to avoid security. His committee held a hearing to get to the bottom of the issue – and security changes are being made. A follow up hearing will be taking place this week.
On Thursday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security held a hearing to examine the funding of airport capital needs. The Hill’s Keith Lang reported on the potential topics including PFCs and talked with GBTA’s Mike McCormick about why GBTA opposes a hike in the PFC cap.
The Washington Post reported on TSA’s announcement that it is imposing more stringent regulations for screening airport and airline workers. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson also said the TSA will require the federal officials who supervise airport security to develop plans for stricter aviation worker screening at each airport.
The Globe and Mail covered a new GBTA study showing the economic impact of business travel on the Canadian economy showing business travellers spent $23.5-billion in Canada in 2013, helping generate about 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. GBTA’s Joe Bates talked with BNN sharing more study details including that the business travel industry supports 434,000 jobs, $16.9 billion in wages and salaries and also generates $8.6 billion in taxes in Canada. GBTA also released its forecast for business travel in India this week projecting India's total business travel spend to grow 9.8 percent in 2015 and 10.9 percent in 2016 – the first year of double-digit spending gains since 2011. What do both of these stories have in common? Both showcase how business travel drives business growth and the importance of face-to-face meetings.
This week in hotel news – it’s all about customer service. Forbes contributor Micah Solomon writes about Ritz Carlton’s culture of customer service including their policy to allow any employee to spend up to $2,000 without permission to resolve a guest issue. Equinox fitness clubs is looking to please fitness-oriented travelers by launching a hospitality brand intended for health-conscious travelers willing to pay for high-end fitness facilities and amenities while on the road, writes The Wall Street Journal. Hotel Management reports that Marriott is bringing Netflix and other streaming media services to its customers through in-room television starting with eight hotels.
Need another reason why social media is important for your company? Tnooz asks if Twitter’s new Buy Now button could gain traction in travel for in-destination bookings?
Airlines are in a rush to update apps for Apple Watch in advance of today’s release, according to USA Today. And speaking of apps, I will leave you with Time Magazine’s list of the 21 best apps for business travelers.