The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) declared last Wednesday, July 29, a national day of action, which AHLA called “Save Hotel Jobs,” for hoteliers across the country to reach out to their congresspeople and urge them to pass additional stimulus relief. LODGING connected with AHLA’s Chip Rogers, president and CEO, and Brian Crawford, executive vice president of government affairs, on July 29 to talk about the initiative.
Why did you choose today for the Day of Action?
Chip Rogers: In life, everything’s about timing. We need to act in a very specific window, after A) the legislation was created and announced, and B) before they actually pass it. We know that there’s a lot of pressure to get this done as quickly as possible, especially with the unemployment benefits running out at the end of [July]. So, we didn’t want to wait too long, but we needed to make sure that we waited long enough that the legislation was actually introduced, which it was on Monday afternoon [on July 27]. This seemed like the perfect time because now we have legislation to point to, Congress is right in the middle of debating this legislation, and hopefully they’ll take action rather soon.
What are you hoping to accomplish today?
Brian Crawford: The key is there’s a number of provisions in the bill [that was introduced on July 27] that benefit our industry, and that we’ve advocated for. There were also a number of really positive provisions included in the HEROES Act, which is the democratic bill that passed in the House of Representatives back in May. So, we’re going to be negotiating provisions in both of those bills, and our goal is to keep the provisions that benefit our members and their employees in the final package. There’s going to be a lot of pushing and pulling here. We expect the negotiations will continue through the weekend and potentially into next week.
Our goal is to have our member companies, our member properties, and our employees be the center of this debate, and remind members of Congress how negatively impacted our industry has been by COVID-19. There is no industry that has been hurt more than our industry, and we want members of Congress to remember that. Our action alerts and Day of Action will be front and center as they’re debating these provisions.
Are there any provisions that you’re looking for specifically?
Brian Crawford: The biggest concerns right now are around liquidity and allowing our members to have financial stability to weather this pandemic. It’s in a couple of different forms for small businesses—for businesses that have 500 employees or less, they can access the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was established under the CARES Act. And they can take out a second loan, which is important, because when CARES was passed, Congress thought that this was going to be a three-month situation. We’re now approaching five months and it looks like it could go on a lot longer than that. There are small businesses and small independent hoteliers, and for them to be able to take out a second PPP loan and keep their employees on payroll is a big deal. On the flipside, there is a need for liquidity and financial help for larger businesses as well, which was supposed to be the mainstream lending facility, which was included in the CARES Act. Unfortunately, the mainstream lending facility, which is run by the federal reserve, has so far not been helpful to our industry, largely based upon the formulas that they use to determine your debt ratio and whether or not you’re eligible to take out loans. Because our industry is so asset-heavy, the ratio does not work; it’s essentially useless. So, we’ve been urging the Fed, the Treasury, and Congress to take action to open this facility up to larger businesses, because larger businesses in the travel industry need help too.
The other major issue is limited liability protection. So, if hotels are following CDC guidelines, if they’re following state and local guidelines, if they’re participating in the AHLA Safe Stay programs, then they should be awarded a safe harbor as they reopen. Congress contemplated that in their legislation; there’s language in this legislation that they will provide more limited liability protections.
There are also a lot of tax provisions that will benefit both employees and employers, which we’d like to stay in there. There are a number of really key components that we want to protect and ensure make it to the finish line, which is why this Day of Action is so important.
What else can hoteliers do at this time?
Chip Rogers: Engaging with lawmakers right now is the single best thing we can do and the most important time to do it. I wouldn’t want to take away from that message. We have a few weeks of opportunity to impact this legislation, which is why we’re making such a big push right now, because once Congress goes on their August recess and then comes back just prior to the election, we don’t expect much—if any—action to take place at that time.