HB ON THE SCENE: AHLA, AAHOA Call for Unity, Action at Summit

WASHINGTON—More than 500 hoteliers from across the country attended this year’s Legislative Action Summit (LAS) to meet with federal legislators about the industry’s concerns: creating jobs, serving guests and supporting communities. 

Held at Capital Hilton, the two-day event—hosted by both the AHLA and AAHOA—aimed to prep attendees for a day of lobbying by presenting them with a range of speakers (including a couple of congressmen), a packet of talking points and industry statistics, and networking opportunities for hoteliers to collaborate with each other on lobbying best practices. 

Opening day one of the conference, Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA, told attendees that the “Stop Online Booking Scams Act” would be reintroduced later in the day in both houses of Congress. She enthusiastically encouraged hoteliers to lobby for the passage of the bill, which, simply put, calls for transparency and disclosure, so consumers know who they’re booking a stay with when doing so online.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AAHOA—a hotel owners association with more than 16,650 members—shifted the discussion to unity by pointing out how the hospitality and lodging industry needs to continue coming together to make any kind of meaningful impact in Congress. “What lawmakers are looking for is unity,” he explained to summit attendees. “The greatest tool we have in the industry is unity.”

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This collaboration across the industry will also assist with counterbalancing the adverse effects of poorly constructed and executed laws. “I don’t think there’s any dispute that without us advocating for our interests, politicians left to their own devices—even with the best intentions—will make major mistakes,” he pointed out. 

A former politician, AAHOA’s president and CEO concluded his speech with two main tips for hoteliers meeting with legislators: know your information and tell your story. He also suggested to attendees: Stay away from the numbers—for lobbying groups all too often overuse figures when sitting down to meet with legislators.

Amy Walter, the national editor at The Cook Political Report, did her best to explain today’s political landscape; however, she admitted to being unsure of what the future will hold (acknowledging the media’s struggle with predicting Trump’s behavior—especially when he was a presidential candidate for the Republican Party). “The chaos candidate has now turned into the chaos presidency,” she told attendees. 

While many Republicans in Congress have been throwing their support behind the president, Democrats—in the minority in both houses—are doing their best to take back the majority, at least in the House. “Democrats smell blood in the water,” she said. Walter believes there’s a 40-50% chance Democrats will regain control of the House after the midterm elections (in 2018). What would a victory in 2018 mean for Democrats in 2019? Subpoena power. What would the Democrats taking back control of the House mean for the American people at large? Hearings, she said.

“My advice to everyone is buckle up and enjoy—if you can—enjoy the ride because it’s going to keep on going,” she concluded before taking questions from the crowd.

Vanessa Sinders, SVP of government affairs at AHLA, and Chirag Shah, VP and counsel of government affairs at AAHOA, followed Walter’s remarks to review talking points with hoteliers who’ll be lobbying on behalf of the industry on Capitol Hill. They re-emphasized the importance of understanding the material ahead of time before sitting down with legislators. They pointed out several key issues and concerns for hoteliers to discuss during their meetings with federal legislators: commercial short-term rentals, tax reform, online booking scams, ADA drive-by lawsuits and more. 

Both associations provided five tips for effective advocacy: staff meetings equal member meetings; remember you’re the expert; be on time; be respectful; and tell your story. They also reminded hoteliers about the importance of following up. 

Steven Allen, partner at Salient Point and AHLA’s “communications guru,” discussed the importance of making a first impression. He also distributed his own talking points to hoteliers in the audience, reminding them to stay, not on script, but message. 

Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) both spoke to attendees about today’s political landscape and what it means for the industry. Each, with their own opinion, agreed on the importance of pushing for tax reform. 

The day’s festivities concluded with the 2017 AHLA Stars of the Industry reception, hosted by Jenna Bush Hager, the youngest of President George W. Bush’s fraternal twin daughters. Wyndham CEO Geoff Ballotti announced the winner of the North Star Award, the association’s highest honor. This year’s winner was Maria Ortiz, restaurant supervisor at Wyndham Houston Medical Center Hotel and Suites in Houston. 

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