HB ON THE SCENE: Hotel industry lobbies Congress at Legislative Action Summit

WASHINGTON—The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) hosted the 2019 Legislative Action Summit at the Capital Hilton to provide a unified voice to the nation’s legislators. The event gathered hoteliers from across the country to meet with members of Congress to discuss issues affecting hospitality.

“This year’s Legislative Action Summit was very successful,” Rachel Humphrey, interim president/CEO, AAHOA, told Hotel Business. “Our members met with senators, representatives and staff and, as small business owners, made the case for policies that have a direct impact on their and their employees’ livelihoods. We stress the importance of making advocacy a part of your business plan, and it was great to see so many AAHOA members embracing that idea.”

Three main issues were on the minds of those in attendance. Among the topics discussed with lawmakers were the reauthorization of Brand USA; congressional action on online booking scams; and empowering localities to combat illegal hotels that advertise on short-term rental platforms.

Hoteliers called on Congress to reauthorize the Brand USA program, which promotes tourism to the U.S. from international visitors, before it ends in 2020.

“Since FY 2013, Brand USA has added $47.7 billion to the U.S. economy,” said Mike Fullerton, senior director of public policy, Brand USA. “For every $1 spent on marketing, it returns an average of $25 to the U.S. economy, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers anything.”

Attendees also encouraged legislators to enact legislation that will combat some third-party online booking companies from scamming consumers by mimicking real hotel websites to steal personal and financial information.

Short-term rentals were also top of mind. Under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, internet platforms are provided with broad immunity from liability for third-party content posted on their websites. AHLA and AAHOA report that short-term rental companies have used Section 230 to avoid local regulations. The two associations are calling for Congress to enact the Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods (PLAN) Act to allow state and local governments to pass laws and regulations addressing short-term rentals.

“We encourage members to help their lawmakers understand how public policy affects their businesses and the lawmakers’ districts,” said Humphrey. “For example, Brand USA markets the entire U.S.—not just big cities—as a destination for international travelers. For many of our members with properties in less populated areas that are close to historic sites, national parks or landmarks, this program is vital to promoting these locations. Telling a lawmaker directly that the program drives international travelers (and their money) into their district is a great way to demonstrate the program’s efficacy and advocate for its reauthorization.”

She continued, “Our members delivered these messages and included crucial context as small business owners about how each issue impacts their business. While lobbyists and others play an important role, there is nothing more impactful than learning about the direct impact that policy decisions have on businesses and communities.”

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA chairwoman and president/CEO, Wealth Protection Strategies Inc., spoke of the importance of the hotel industry to the economy. “The size and the reach of the lodging industry and the outlook for our future tell a compelling story,” she said. “As an industry, we mine the American Dream. Our businesses are pillars of the community. Our iconic buildings and brands are universally recognized across the nation.”

Also speaking at the summit were two members of Congress who are also members of AAHOA, Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA) and Ralph Norman (R-SC).

Rep. Norman spoke with Hotel Business about the three issues. “Technology is making things possible today in the hospitality industry that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago,” he said. “Some of those changes have been positive, such as greater accessibility for consumers, but other changes have been profoundly negative. The loopholes exploited by companies relying on new app-based technology are exploited solely to save money at the expense of the consumer. These loopholes only exist because the laws were written before the emergence of the internet, which is facilitating both legitimate services, but also online scammers. Luckily, we have a good group of bipartisan members who are willing to tackle this issue head-on. Lastly, the renewal of Brand USA is a huge win for the hotel industry and the industry in our state in particular. Since South Carolina’s largest revenue generator is tourism, this program is not just essential to the industry, but to the state economy as a whole.”

Humphrey said that the industry will continue to fight for issues important to the hospitality industry. “Our industry is united in advocating for these issues. We will continue to work with our partners at AHLA, the Visit U.S. Coalition and others to pressure Congress to act,” she said. “We will also continue to encourage our members to engage with their lawmakers on these issues and continue to educate them about why these matters are important to hoteliers. Advocacy is not a one and done. Repeated engagement drives lawmakers’ awareness and understanding of our issues.” HB

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