AH&LA and AAHOA descend on the nation’s capital

WASHINGTON—Cherry blossoms hit their peak bloom in late-March this year, but late May brought another budding group to the nation’s capital: the second joint Legislative Action Summit (LAS) hosted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). Nearly 500 hoteliers from across the country took part in the two-day event. 

“Together, we will be much stronger,” Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AH&LA said of working with AAHOA on the summit.  

Speakers included Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Report, who gave insight into the White House and what party will control the House of Representatives and Senate after the upcoming election; Jim Abrahamson, chair of AH&LA, and Bruce Patel, chair of AAHOA, who both provided welcoming remarks on the first day; and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who served as keynote speaker. 

To cap off the summit, Anthony Melchiorri, star of Hotel Impossible, hosted the AH&LA Stars of the Industry event, held in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell State Office Building. Of the more than 400 nominated “stars,” nine were given awards including Outstanding General Manager of the Year and AH&LA Property of the Year. Chris Woodrow, sales manager of the Riverwind Hotel in Norman, OK, was awarded with Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year; he had put out a fire that could have ripped through the entire hotel had he not acted quickly. 

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House’s Democratic Whip, spoke about current congressional policy agenda, as well as the impact of travel and tourism on the economy. “You are one important group of people,” he told the audience. “Our economy depends on a thriving travel and lodging segment.” 

Hoyer also spoke about the Internet of Things and the technological advancement hoteliers have championed. In true Washington fashion, he also joked about divisiveness in the House: “The Congress is less than the sum of its parts.” He clarified that the anecdote is meant to say that there are good people on both sides of the aisle but, “We don’t come together.” 

Hoteliers were hoping that all could come together at the event to meet some of their most pressing needs. After a “Lobbying 101” course, members descended upon Capitol Hill to speak with their representatives about the most crucial points affecting the industry, which fell into four categories: workforce, the short-term rental market, online booking scams and lawsuits derived from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), also known as drive-by lawsuits. 

“We are defending the free-enterprise system,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AAHOA. He noted that the American business model has created more wealth and prosperity than any other system in the world at any time. 

Sean Jurgens, a third-generation owner and operator of the Comfort Inn of Estes Park, CO, agreed that creating working friendships to defend the hotel industry is paramount to its success. “It’s always beneficial because we got to put our needs at the forefront. We come here to develop relationships and talk with our representatives. Then, they have you in mind when it comes to understanding the needs of their constituents,” he explained. 

Workforce issues 

Joint employer is perhaps the most critical issue to the hotel industry. “It changes the entire scope of franchising and it’s a model that has been in place for over a hundred years,” Rogers said of the proposal in which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) expanded the definition of the joint-employer standard. The standard has been a cornerstone of labor law for more than 30 years, protecting small business from undue liability involving employees over which they do not have actual or direct control, according to AH&LA and AAHOA. However, the new standard could make employers legally liable for employees that they don’t directly employ. 

“Franchisees didn’t go into business to be controlled by the franchisor; they went into business to become business owners,” Rogers added. 

Additionally, the workforce could be impacted by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposal to nearly double the salary threshold for employees eligible for overtime from $23,660 to $47,476, which will go into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. 

Members lobbied for two acts: for joint employer, the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act; for overtime, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act. 

“The power of our industry lies in the opportunities hotels create for men and women seeking jobs that pay competitive wages, offer good benefits and provide a path toward upward mobility to long-term, successful careers,” said Lugar. 

Short-term rentals

With the hope of gaining transparency on commercial short-term rentals, hoteliers asked their representatives to reach out to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to complete its study into the commercial operators of short-term rental platforms, including Airbnb, to give policymakers information to formulate appropriate policies. Findings from a report done by AH&LA and Penn State University School of Hospitality concluded that nearly 30% of revenue generated in the areas that were studied came from full-time operators. Also from 2014 to 2015, there was an 81.4% increase in those who rent three units or more. 

Drive-by lawsuits

To stop lawsuits derived from the ADA, or drive-by lawsuits, hoteliers asked for cosponsors to the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015, which would give small business owners a provision to address any ADA violations before “legal proceedings can move forward.” 

The number of lawsuits filed under the ADA targeting property owners and businesses has grown by more than 63% in just one year, according to AH&LA and AAHOA, which further noted, “This issue is affecting many hoteliers as some opportunistic attorneys take advantage of those that the ADA is supposed to serve. It costs the lodging industry unnecessary burdens and fees defending the progress hotels have made to properly serve all guests.” 

Online booking scams 

AH&LA and AAHOA members also lobbied for stronger consumer protection in regard to online booking with the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. According to a 2015 AH&LA survey, “nearly one-third of consumers who booked online using an online travel company website say they worried about it.” Of those consumers, 32% got a room that was different from what they expected, 17% were charged hidden fees, 14% were charged an extra booking fee and 9% had lost or canceled reservations.  HB