The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) serves a network of more than 14,000 travel agencies and advisors of all sizes with a variety of business models — from destination-specific individual advisors to large companies like Expedia. This means the policy issues ASTA focuses on and advocates for on behalf of their members run the gamut from global, to federal, and even at the state and local levels.
The organization is only about 25 people total. To represent these 14,000 members in front of legislators and regulators around the world and all 50 U.S. states, ASTA counts with a small but mighty team of three. The advocacy team, led by Executive Vice President of Advocacy Eben Peck, manages government affairs, advocacy, and communications efforts for the travel industry.
With such a small team where sometimes they have to wear different hats, technology has become an important tool that allows them to save time and do their jobs more efficiently. ASTA leverages FiscalNote, CQ News, and VoterVoice to stay ahead of any developments on key legislation and regulation, as well as to activate their membership and advocates to take action and make their voices heard in government.
A Single Source of Truth
Continuity and clarity are vital to maintaining key relationships with lawmakers and pushing issues forward. The ASTA team uses FiscalNote as their command center for not only tracking legislation and regulations but also all interactions they have with government officials.
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“We had 150 congressional meetings last year. Being able to see that in one place, sort by issue, and search for ‘What did this staffer say about this issue three months ago’ — otherwise, we would be having to search through our inbox — having that all in one place is very helpful,” says Peck.
The team also leverages FiscalNote’s keyword-based discovery alerts to stay on top of any legislation that might even tacitly affect travel advisors. The data within the platform also allows them to prepare the talking points to discuss with their key stakeholders and keep all this information in one place.
“Discovery alerts really do a good job of summarizing the things that we're looking for,” says Lou Altobelli, advocacy coordinator at ASTA. “It's really good that you just put these action alerts in and have a recall for when we talk to someone on the Hill about X issue.”
Staying Informed and Taking Action
Combined with the latest news from CQ News, the most established press corps on Capitol Hill, discovery alerts allow the team to know what’s coming down the pipeline and assess where they’ll need their members to get involved.
“On the CQ side, I read the news every single day and that's extremely valuable because we always need to figure out what's going on in Congress and what's going to happen,” Peck says. “I use CQ as well for the committee schedules; it’s helpful as you can sort by committee, what hearings are coming up, and you can create an Outlook calendar invite off of that.”
For activating their grassroots network, ASTA trusts VoterVoice to quickly build those campaigns and set up a simple process their advocates can easily engage with.
“We use VoterVoice heavily for the grassroots campaigns,” says Peck. “We did 14 campaigns through VoterVoice in 2020 and 10 already this year; it's very easy to use.” For comparison, ASTA ran four campaigns in 2019.
“We use VoterVoice heavily for the grassroots campaigns. We did 14 campaigns through VoterVoice in 2020 and 10 already this year; it's very easy to use.”Eben Peck, Executive Vice President of Advocacy
American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA)
Peck’s team also uses VoterVoice to organize and segment their members as they can go very granular and find members in a specific state’s district or based on how they’ve taken action with their campaigns in the past.
“We have a membership database a lot of trade associations use, but it's not designed for government affairs, so when I need to find our members in Oklahoma, that's easily done. But if I need to find our members in Oklahoma's second Congressional district, that's almost impossible to do, so I use VoterVoice to search people in that district or state legislative districts as well.”
This level of granular data in VoterVoice about ASTA’s membership also ties back in with FiscalNote and the team’s stakeholder management work. Peck can quickly find how many members the organization has in a specific district and use that as part of the talking points during a meeting to show a lawmaker the policy impact in their particular district.
Pushing for Regulatory Changes
One of the issues in ASTA’s priority list last summer was around tough CDC restrictions on the cruising industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using VoterVoice, the advocacy team was able to leverage their members and grassroots network to comment on Regulations.gov and make their voices heard even at the regulatory level.
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“I was really happy to see VoterVoice had that [NPRM comment process] capability because otherwise, you had to ask people via email to cut and paste and then go to regulations.gov. Being able to do it all in one tool in a way that they're used to is certainly helpful,” says Peck. “We had 680 people use the tool this way, which is a pretty good response.”
Even though the campaign didn’t change the CDC’s stance, “there's value in putting up a fight — especially in the past 14 months,” he adds. Using VoterVoice, ASTA was able to give its members an outlet and help them feel productive in trying everything they can to save their businesses.
2020 was a challenging year but, for ASTA, it was also a record-breaking year as more people engaged with its advocacy campaigns than ever before.
After the CARES Act was passed, everyone was talking about the possibility of the next relief package. ASTA quickly jumped on the opportunity to make sure the travel industry made the cut and launched an advocacy campaign in VoterVoice between April and June.
“We had 25,000 people take part and we have 14,000 members, so obviously that's huge,” says Peck. “Our last record for number of people participating in a campaign was in 2019 with a California Bill and that was 2,900 people, so we went up almost 10x from our previous record.”
Proving the ROI
ASTA membership grew in 2020 in part because the organization was positioned to advocate for the most pressing issues in the industry and advise its members on how to best deal with them. Leveraging FiscalNote and VoterVoice, ASTA was able to stay ahead and prove its value.
“Suddenly there were all these new government programs that people wanted access to,” says Peck. “We had concrete advice to give to people to get access to these programs because we had been in the mix from the beginning and we've been following it closely.”
FiscalNote and VoterVoice also help the small advocacy team prove the worth of their work not only to internal teams but also to members. Altobelli uses the discovery alerts and the reporting features within FiscalNote to build a weekly summary with all relevant developments around their issues. And the metrics from their meetings with legislators and from their VoterVoice campaigns also help inform their communications with members and the rest of the organization.
Building a Successful Digital Advocacy Strategy
Even as things start to return to somewhat normal, digital advocacy has become more important than ever for advocacy professionals. ASTA recently held its first hybrid fly-in with both in-person and virtual components. “It went really well,” says Altobelli. “People had the [VoterVoice] app and we could have everything digital now.”
From tracking all developments and staying up to date on legislation and regulations with FiscalNote and CQ to mobilizing advocates and managing an entire fly-in event using VoterVoice, the FiscalNote suite of products helps government affairs and advocacy teams build a successful and comprehensive government affairs and advocacy strategy.
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