TO: ABA Members and Industry Colleagues
For the past three months at ABA we have watched and listened to our Association’s members as our industry, unlike most other industries, has been rocked to the very depth of its soul. We have seen most motorcoach operators park buses and furlough workers, tour operators have cancelled most trips, and suppliers and travel members have seen their business dry up and/or close for months and many of our colleagues are furloughed.
While we are beginning to see states and cities ease restrictions and open businesses, we know that the tour, motorcoach and group travel industry will still have a very long road to recovery, probably years before things return to pre-2020 levels.
At ABA, there are things we can do to help our members and things we cannot do. We cannot make the pain go away. We can’t fix a business that is teetering on the edge. But we can fight like mad to make sure Congress and the public are aware of the industry’s plight and the need for additional federal support.
Over the last few months ABA has had two primary missions: First, educate ABA members and provide resources concerning federal actions and available help, such as the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP and disaster loan programs, as well as track and provide information on changes to federal and state requirements to assist with navigating these uncertain times. Second, our efforts have been laser focused on educating and working directly with members of Congress to ensure our members’ voices are heard and seeking funding to assist our members through this crisis.
Many ABA members have been key to our legislative efforts and a critical component of our legislative strategy. Because of the efforts of individual companies and the industry’s collective voice, as well as our own staff and outside consultants, we have made great strides, but we still have more to do.
We have expanded our lobbying team from our ABA Government Affairs staff and me to include several lobbying firms, with the assistance from some of our members, for a total of more than 20 team members. The team includes representatives from four lobbying firms who are all assisting ABA, and lobbyists and consultants from four ABA member companies who also have their own legislative representatives in Washington.
As well, ABA’s communications team, has rounded out the advocacy strategy by providing a media force to the overarching effort. Collectively, these teams have been working around the clock to bring national attention to the plight of the motorcoach tour and travel industry, and advocate for federal financial help to bridge it through this crisis.
When Congress enacted the CARES Act or 3rd stimulus package, we were disappointed it did not provide a carve out for the motorcoach and group tour industry, while all other transportation modes received dedicated funds. But, considering these other modes generally receive federal funding help annually as a regular part of their business, this was not entirely a surprise. Still, based on our outreach efforts, the CARES Act did include funds in the form of EIDL loans and PPP monies, both of which have been utilized by some ABA members. Although these funds have helped some companies, most agree these programs have fallen far short of industry needs, especially for businesses that have no income now, and limited income for the foreseeable future. For this reason, ABA and its teams have continued to push for more help.
Since the CARES Act, and in recognition of the shortcomings of the initial PPP program, Congress did make additional changes to the program. Per ABA’s request and based on ours as well as others outreach, Congress lengthened the covered period, to assist with obtaining loan forgiveness and giving more time for companies to recall workers. Also, companies will now have a longer period of time to repay the loans, from 2 years to 5 years.
While we were pleased to see Congress take these actions, we have also continued to make our case to Congress to provide more help in the form of $10 billion in grants and $5 billion loans. Many of you have participated in sending this message to Congress as well, through industry letter writing campaigns and virtual meetings with legislative officials and their staff to explain the impact on your business. Also, the May 2020 Bus Rally for Awareness in Washington, D.C., organized jointly by ABA with UMA along with manufacturers and state associations, was highly successful in bringing attention to the plight of the industry by bringing 800 motorcoaches to Capitol Hill.
ABA member media efforts also have played a key role in bringing Congressional attention to industry needs. ABA member efforts in sending letters to the editors of local and regional newspapers, and conducting local and national media interviews, was fed to Congressional offices by our staff so that they are constantly hearing about the impact of COVID-19 on their constituents who are employers in addition to generators of revenue and local taxes.
So, where have these efforts led? Aside from the successes with obtaining help through the PPP and disaster loan programs, it has helped to position the industry for additional help. Some ABA members have asked me if there is a specific bill before Congress that the industry supports. I can tell you that right now we are working with Senate offices to get a bill introduced with language to provide additional grant and loan funding. But timing is an issue. As you may have heard from press reports, the Senate is not likely to consider another stimulus bill until later in the summer. Although disappointing, it does provide us additional time to have an impact on Congress and future stimulus packages.
To be successful we need all association members, and the entire industry to continue reaching out to their legislators – by writing letters, making calls, and requesting meetings. It would be tremendous if every member sent an individual, hand-crafted letter telling their story, but if you are uncomfortable doing that, we do have a draft letter on the ABA website that members can personalize and use. However, even more impactful is to pick up the phone and call your legislator’s office. Remember, this is an election year and your legislators need to hear from you.
You may not always see all the progress that is being made but I can assure you that we continue to make progress every day. Getting 94 members of the House to send a letter to the four Congressional leaders was progress. Getting 28 U.S. Senators to send a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders was progress. Getting in front of Vice President Pence a few weeks ago to plead the industry’s case was progress. Getting news stories out through the Associated Press into USA Today and many local newspapers and television stations was progress. Getting letters to the editors that we generated in many newspapers across the country was progress. Getting key members of the House and Senate to send letters on our behalf to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin was progress. Working directly with members of Congress who are committed to help us in the next stimulus bill is progress. There are countless examples of work being done by these 20 government affairs professionals and our members individually that are getting us closer to success and we have not diverted from our focus.
For our part, we will continue to work with the ABA Board of Directors and our Policy Committee as we constantly keep them informed about what we are working on and our progress. And we will engage all members to make certain that everyone is on the same page and focused on success. Also, we will continue to do outreach to federal agencies to obtain regulatory and/or administrative relief, to help your business at this time.
For example, through ABA’s persistent outreach to the secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service, we successfully convinced NPS to drop its plans for commercial use authorization requirements and park entrance fee increases. As well, ABA was able to work with the Transportation Security Administration to obtain a designation of “essential service” to enable motorcoach operators to continue with operations during this shutdown, and with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to provide relief from hours of service and drug screening requirements. ABA will also continue to serve as a resource for updates and changes to requirements to programs such as the PPP or the new Federal Reserve Main Street Lending program.
We just opened registration for ABA’s Marketplace 2021. Marketplace will be held in Baltimore and we are excited about the prospect of uniting the industry in what will be the first major travel show in nearly a year. Marketplace has been completely reimagined, with changes to its format, pricing and schedule that will make it more valuable to attendees. For those who do register for Marketplace there will be a Marketplace 365 virtual component that will enhance your in-person appointment capability. And of course, all Marketplace activities and events will be developed according to the latest meeting industry protocols to ensure your safety is first and foremost throughout the event.
ABA is continuing to be the leader in education through webinars tailored to the broad membership as well as to specific industry segments. There are sessions devoted to managing and operating your business, marketing and sales in an uncertain environment, bus safety and maintenance sessions, and programs developed by accounting and legal staffs.
We’ll also continue keeping you up to date with all of our print and online publications including: Destinations, Insider, Bus Bulletin, Tour Stop, Coronavirus Update newsletter, Government Affairs updates, and other notices that will be sent when critical information needs to reach you. We have also created a dedicated website to COVID-19 news and recovery tools for our members: www.busesmoveamerica.com.
Our membership team has reach out to each member company in the last few months and is aggressively working with members to find ways to assist them personally and professionally during these challenging days.
I want to invite you to join me for an all-member call on Wednesday, June 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET to discuss how ABA is working for you. You can register for the call here.
If at any time you need help from me or anyone at ABA, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me directly at 202-218-7229.
Wishing you, your families, and your colleagues the best during these challenging times.
President & CEO
American Bus Association
111 K Street, NE, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20002