Without a doubt, 2015 will be a good year for the hotel industry. More united and engaged than ever before, we are poised to build on the success of the past 12 months.
In 2014, AH&LA achieved its largest membership in history, ending the year with nearly 20,000 members—representing half of the entire hotel industry. Our high level of engagement led to the completion of key accomplishments, increased visibility, and record involvement. Congress passed Brand USA reauthorization to encourage international travel to the United States, and we successfully blocked some local extreme wage initiatives, including those in San Diego and Rhode Island. Furthermore, in just the first few weeks of 2015, Congress reauthorized the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) and made progress on another priority for our industry, restoring the definition of a full-time workweek under the Affordable Care Act to the traditional 40 hours.
While these actions are a sign that we can expect real progress, our work has just begun. AH&LA recently unveiled its 2015 policy agenda, which focuses on key policy areas we believe could greatly affect the hotel industry in the coming year.
LABOR POLICY AND THE FRANCHISE MODEL
The vast majority of our nation’s hotels are franchisees, and in most cases they are small, independently owned and operated businesses. These entrepreneurs have poured their time and money into their properties and are used to working independently from their parent company. In so many ways, the success of the hotel industry is dependent on the franchisor/franchisee relationship. However, recent efforts by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seek to upend this long-standing relationship. As an industry, we support policies and regulations that ensure a fair and equitable working environment for both employees and employers.
LOCAL EXTREME WAGE INITIATIVES
Across the country, local and state governments have been proposing wage increases for the rapidly growing hospitality industry. In many cases, those wage increases are simply too high and implemented too fast, making it extremely difficult for the industry to absorb them without serious consequences for its workforce. In certain cities, some of these increases specifically target the hotel industry. AH&LA will work with officials at all levels of government to ensure fair and reasonable increases, but we also cannot—and will not—stand by when a city singles out hotels.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
Congress has begun working to revise parts of the Affordable Care Act, most notably the existing definition of a full-time employee. Enacting legislation to change this definition back to 40 hours and making other adjustments to make this law work better for American businesses and employees, whether through the regulatory or legislative process, are high priorities for AH&LA. We are committed to working with Congress and the Obama Administration to make necessary changes that ensure our industry can continue to provide quality, affordable health insurance to its employees and their families.
TECHNOLOGY AND DISTRIBUTION ISSUES
Innovation is key to the hotel industry’s continued success, yet it is critical to ensure that new uses of technology do not harm consumers. For example, deceptive practices that trick consumers into believing they are booking directly with hotels that lead to falsely branded call centers or lead them to believe that they are participating in branded rewards points programs are a concern to our industry. We will also continue to advocate for a level playing field between the hotel industry and online travel companies when it comes to local and state tax collections. Finally, short-term online rental companies, such as Airbnb, and their hosts who operate as a business should not be able to skirt local, state, and federal tax and regulatory laws that protect consumers and support communities.
A continued focus on increasing the flow of foreign visitors to the United States through a number of important initiatives is critical to generating and maintaining the growth of the hotel industry. Implementation of policies such as the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act or other changes that expand the availability of visas for foreign visitors without compromising security remain a high priority for AH&LA.
In recent years, patent trolls have significantly increased the number of harmful, frivolous lawsuits and threats of lawsuits filed against hotels. To address this issue, AH&LA helped assemble the leading pro-reform coalition, composed of a broad spectrum of industries, including restaurants, realtors, home builders, and technology companies, and will be leading efforts to pass strong federal legislation.
The hotel industry has a strong track record of growing the economy and adding new jobs to the marketplace and is well positioned to face the challenges ahead. In the coming weeks and months, AH&LA will work tirelessly to transform our challenges into successes.
Vanessa Sinders is senior vice president, government and political affairs at AH&LA.