This week, hundreds of hoteliers from across the country convened in the nation’s capital to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill during the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) 2018 Legislative Action Summit (LAS). This is the fourth year that AHLA and AAHOA are partnering to unite the industry and highlight key issues to U.S. Representatives and Senators.
“You get to go tomorrow and tell your elected officials what you want them to do,” Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AAHOA, told hoteliers on September 12 during a summit at the Capital Hilton. Rogers advised hoteliers when meeting with their members of Congress to be concise, make connections with them, tell the story of their business, and tell their representative what they want. “Make sure you tell your story, because that will impress your member of Congress to where you can personally connect with them,” Rogers explained. “After you’ve connected with them, after they know who you are and where you’re coming from, after they understand your expertise and why you should be a resource for anything that has to do with hospitality—make sure you do the asking.”
When it comes to that call to action, hoteliers are focusing on four issues this year: creating more career opportunities in hospitality, the impact of tax reform, promoting international travel, and protecting consumers from online booking scams.
Developing the Hospitality Workforce
One of the key challenges hoteliers face today is the finding, hiring, and retaining qualified employees. “The thing that makes hospitality thrive is that it’s a business of people who take care of people. The commitment to our team members across the industry has never been more alive and well,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA. Lugar said that industry initiatives like the management-track apprenticeship program and Opportunity Youth program are helping to advance individual careers and upscale the industry’s workforce. “That is what is going to get our economy firing on all cylinders.”
In their meetings with Congressional members, hoteliers plan to highlight the importance of creating career paths rather than simply job opportunities, and urge representatives to increase funding for career and technical education that promotes in-demand jobs and to support and expand training opportunities to modernize the workforce.
Since last year’s Legislative Action Summit, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, lowering individual and corporate tax rates, creating a 20 percent deduction for pass-throughs, preserving like-kind exchanges, and creating more discretionary income to enable greater travel.
Chirag Shah, vice president of government affairs, AAHOA, said that some of these tax reform provisions are set to expire in 2025, and hoteliers should ask their lawmakers to take action. “Share your story about how tax reform has impacted your business at home,” Shah said. “Make sure that your members of Congress know that it is critically important to you back home who create jobs in local communities to make the tax cuts permanent.”
Promoting International Travel
Travel and tourism generate an estimated $2.3 trillion in economic output and support one in nine U.S. jobs. During LAS, Phil Lovas, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), shared the department’s most recent data on international travel. Nearly 77 million international travelers visited the United States last year, collectively spending a record $251.4 billion—a 2 percent increase over 2016.
One of the efforts behind growing inbound tourism and marketing U.S. destinations is Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes America as a destination for international travel. However, Brand USA must be reauthorized by 2020. Hoteliers were encouraged to call on their members of Congress to reauthorize Brand USA, and also to cosponsor the Jobs Originating through Launching Travel (JOLT Act, H.R. 6618) to modernize the Visa Waiver Program.
Online Booking Scams
The AHLA estimates that there were 55 million fraudulent and misleading online hotel bookings last year. Misleading information from third-party online booking sites creates headaches for both guests and hoteliers. When speaking to members of Congress about this issue, Brian Crawford, AHLA’s senior vice president of government affairs, urged hoteliers to use examples of how this issue impacts their guests and businesses. “The scam comes in a lot of forms, but you deal with this on a daily basis,” Crawford said. “Every single day a consumer shows up at one of your properties and their reservation is not correct.”
To recapture direct bookings and protect consumers, hoteliers will ask representatives to cosponsor the Stop Online Booking Scams Act (S. 1164 and H.R. 2495), bipartisan legislation that prohibits websites from misleading consumers into believing that they are affiliated with the actual hotel property and requires third-party websites to prominently display their true identity on their homepage.