Hoteliers on the Hill: AHLA and AAHOA’s 2019 Legislative Action Summit

Chirag Shah and Brian Crawford on stage at 2019's Legislative Action Summit.
Chirag Shah and Brian Crawford on stage at 2019's Legislative Action Summit.

On September 10 and 11, hoteliers from all over the United States converged in Washington, D.C. for the Legislative Action Summit. This annual event, jointly hosted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), gives hoteliers the opportunity to connect with lawmakers and discuss issues important to the hotel industry.

This year, the agenda was packed. On Tuesday, attendees met at D.C.’s Capital Hilton to discuss the major issues that they would bring to lawmakers’ attention this year. Top priorities included promoting international travel and renewing Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes America as the best destination for international travelers; protecting local authority over short-term rentals and illegal hotels; and protecting consumers from online booking scams.

Jon Bortz, CEO of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust and vice chair of AHLA, helped kick off the event, along with Jagruti Panwala, chairwoman of AAHOA. “The hotel industry is a thriving industry,” he said. “It’s one that impacts every single congressional district in the united states. As employers and tax payers and neighbors, hoteliers are proud to be an integral part of communities across America, and we are committed to growing and strengthening them together.” Bortz brought up the study released last week by AHLA and Oxford Econometrics, noting that the lodging industry is responsible for 8.3 million jobs. “We create jobs, we support and grow our communities, and most importantly, we take care of our employees,” he said.

Panwala agreed. “Our businesses are pillars of their communities, and our iconic buildings and brands are universally recognized across the nation. Our industry is an indispensable economic engine that contributes greatly to our communities through job creation, revenues, and investments by hoteliers.”

The Importance of Relationships

The first day of the conference was spent preparing attendees to meet with legislators. Panwala noted that getting in front of legislators to talk about the issues, as well as following up with them to stay top of mind, is key to the industry’s ongoing success. “I’ve also learned the importance of following up with lawmakers. It is great that we are all here today, but while we are here in Washington, we have to remember that this is a important first step, it is not the only step. Our industry is built on relationships. The ones we forge with our guests, our employees, and our fellow hoteliers. Building that relationship and making a connection with a lawmaker is the next step and one of the most important actions we can take as an industry,” she described.

Relationships were also brought up by Brian Crawford, AHLA’s EVP of Government Affairs. “We want you to build relationships with your elected officials… We want them, your elected officials, to know who we are. We want them to know you on a first name basis. We want them to know where your properties are. We want them to know your general managers. We want them to know what exactly we’re about,” he said.

Crawford offered attendees tips for making the biggest impression in a short amount of time, as well as how to bring up issues important to the hotel industry.

Chirag Shah, AAHOA’s VP of government affairs, joined Crawford on stage that first day to discuss the top issues that hoteliers would be broaching with their representatives, noting that many of them are similar to what was discussed in 2018. “Building relationships takes time, and this is a process on each organization. It’s why we’re talking about similar things that we talked about last year at this time. It’s why we continue to have these conversations. Our teams are going to be taking these issues and messages that you bring, and continuing that message day after day,” Shah said.

Beyond renewing Brand USA, combating illegal hotels, and protecting consumers from online booking scams, other hot topics at this year’s Legislative Action Summit included drive-by lawsuits, minimum wage increases, and increasing consumer awareness around OTAs, most notably that 96 percent of the OTA market is owned by just two companies. Crawford and Shah also went over talking points with the attendees, preparing them for quick meetings with legislators that would make the biggest impact.

On the Hill

On Wednesday, hoteliers from all over the country meet with their representatives at Capitol Hill to share their stories and educate lawmakers on the issues most impacting the hotel industry. “It all goes back to telling your story,” Shah said.

Crawford agreed, telling attendees, “The power of our industry in all of you.”

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Kate Hughes, Editor, LODGING Magazine