NATIONAL REPORT—The country clearly issued a statement with the recent midterm elections in which the Republicans gained control of the Senate. The question now becomes: Will having a consensus make it considerably easier for the hotel industry to make a statement of its own in the near future and, ultimately, enact legislation that will benefit the industry?
Those who have taken up the industry’s causes on Capitol Hill weighed in on the potential impact of the changes in representation. “The new Senate Republican majority, combined with a larger House Republican majority, will clearly alter the policy landscape for the business community and the lodging industry,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO, AH&LA.
Lugar went into more specifics in terms of what the AH&LA expects: “We anticipate a strong focus in both the House and the Senate on administration oversight and opposing administrative actions on matters like implementation of the Affordable Care Act and decisions issued by the National Labor Relations Board, including the ‘joint employer’ decision that could significantly impact the franchise model,” she said.
Speaking specifically about the Affordable Care Act, Lugar noted that the new Congress is expected to conduct another “messaging vote” on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and, subsequently, take action on smaller bills to “change burdensome and unworkable parts of the law.” She added that, following the election, both Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) supported a revision in how full-time employees are defined, proposing a change from 30 hours to 40 hours. The AH&LA has been advocating for such a shift for quite some time.
Another big issue for the lodging industry, which has been supported by a number of high-profile brand CEOs, has been its efforts to enact legislation that will reduce visa waiver wait times for other countries. In fact, President Obama recently announced an agreement with China, which will extend the life of business and tourist visas to 10 years from their previous one-year term. In addition, student visas have been extended to five years.
Most observers believe these measures will significantly boost tourism from the country, but most also acknowledge the U.S. has only scratched the surface on the issue.
Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group, has been an active political advocate for the lodging industry through his work with groups such as the AH&LA, AAHOA and the U.S. Travel Association. Ballotti is hopeful the recent changes will continue the momentum gained on that front.
“This industry needs to continue to work on reducing visa wait times. We’ve made just great progress over the last few years, but I still think there’s a lot that can be done. With this mix now, a very business-minded focus on reducing visa wait times will really benefit this industry,” he said, adding Brazil should be a country where the U.S. targets its efforts.
Ballotti continued, “There’s no better time for our voices to be heard. Travel and tourism is the world’s biggest industry. There’s a willingness to listen, more so than ever, and there’s an opportunity for our country to reverse a trend and recapture what has been just a dramatic loss of share. The last 12 years, we’ve lost over a third of our share of international arrivals. I’m confident this country could retake its top spot with a handful of quick fixes.”
Lugar underscored the point: “Reducing visa wait times is one of our priorities in any immigration reform proposal. This is a common-sense way to draw more visitors to our country with great benefits to the U.S. economy.”
Lugar further added that while the JOLT (Jobs Originated through Launching Travel) Act was incorporated into the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill, the House has not moved on the bill or the JOLT Act specifically. Lugar commented, “AH&LA will work strategically and aggressively to find a path forward for this important legislation in the new Congress.”
Lugar noted the AH&LA also remains hopeful that, prior to recessing for the year, the House of Representatives will pass the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which was passed by the Senate earlier this year and expires at the end of this month. According to the AH&LA, TRIA is bipartisan legislation that promotes stability and job growth across many sectors.
Lugar maintained that both House and Senate leaders planned to pass a budget in 2015 to provide a guideline for government funding for the coming year. She added that another area where the AH&LA expects early consensus is patent reform. She maintained, “Both House and Senate Republican leaders on this issue have stated their intent to revisit legislation quickly.”
Lugar also acknowledged that there is a general consensus that the recent government changes will result in more tangible results but, nonetheless, challenges continue to exist. “We expect more cross-collaboration between House and Senate Republican leadership to work together to illustrate that Congress can govern and get things done,” she said. “However, it will not be an easy road, given the dynamic of a more conservative House and Senate with a significant number of blue and purple state Republicans up for re-election in 2016. That said, we anticipate a busy year legislatively that includes some smaller, targeted measures getting to the President’s desk and being signed into law.”
Lugar commented further: “The good news is that the hotel industry has had record growth in 2014, and projections expect 2015 to be another great year. Even amid the turmoil of the midterm elections, our industry is thriving and remains a bright spot in the economy.”