Choice Hotels International 55th annual convention opened at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center with a Capitol Hill update panel to discuss the legislative issues facing today’s hoteliers. Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, summed up the panel’s message for the industry with one quote.
“We’re the drama club and we have to become the football team,” he said about the industry’s position in the national consciousness. What he and the rest of the panel wanted to convey is that hospitality provides a large percentage of jobs and revenue for this country—much more than the auto industry—and yet, it’s not treated in that way by the country’s leaders.
The takeaway for the Potomac Ballroom crowd, also conveyed by the convention’s theme “Achieving more together,” is to stand up and change the policy issues affecting the industry.
Here are the topics that were discussed:
Employee Free Choice Act
The panel and crowd still highlight this as a big concern, but there are indications that this bill, at the very least, will not be passed in its current state, and might possibly be shelved for another year.
“The good news is some of the legislators know it's a terrible piece of legislation,” said Joe McInerny, CHA, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “They don’t have the 60 votes. They’d like to come up with some alterative.”
McInerney said any compromise of the EFCA that includes: removing the secret ballot, going to arbitration or fining the hotel owner but not the union for a contract breach, will still be unacceptable.
“The idea is to kill it and come up with an alternative,” he said. “We don’t want to be fighting this every year.”
Matt Shay, chairman of the International Franchise Association, said at a recent event he attended, Senator Harry Reid outlined his five big goals for the year, and card-check was not one of them. This leads him to believe it's not on the agenda at the moment.
The panelists agreed the industry needs to shift focus from the EFCA and to amending the National Labor Relations Act instead.
“If you listen to arguments of those in the labor movement who support [EFCA], there’s a lot of incongruity with what they say and what they want to achieve,” Shay said.
“If the National Labor Relations Act is the problem, lets fix it,” McInerney said. McInerney also estimated that if the EFCA did pass in some capacity, there would be 600,000 jobs lost.
Increasing Overseas Travel
The U.S. has a problem getting in-bound overseas travelers, according to Dow. The U.S. receives 700,000 fewer overseas travelers now compared to 2000, while the total number of overseas travelers has increased by 48 million, he said. One issue is the difficulty for certain travelers to acquire visas.
“There’s a long wait,” Dow said. “We’ve worked on pushing that time down to 30 days. We’re also trying to get them to use more electronics and reduce the number of visa waiver countries.”
One country that no longer will need a visa is South Korea, which “will bring in another million visitors” to the U.S., according to Dow.
The other legislative issue in this area is travel promotion.
“Every other developed country in the world spends from $60 million to $50 million to promote their country,” Dow said. The U.S., currently, spends zero. The Travel Promotion Act, which he was confident would be passed, would raise $200 million for travel promotion to the U.S. And the marketing effort would not promote New York City, Los Angeles and other traditionally big hotspots, but it would promote the U.S. in general and try to dispel certain perceptions about the country.
Stimulus Money, Lending
Focusing again on the importance of the industry, Shay said the goal of the International Franchise Association this year is to get banks lending again and to get Congress to understand the importance of small businesses.
“For every million dollars invested in lending to a small business, you created 34 new jobs —sustainable jobs—not a job created from the stimulus package for sprucing up a mall that goes away when the mall is spruced up.”
The $700 billion stimulus bill dedicated $675 million to small businesses. Shay believes this is not enough.
“We spend a significant amount of time talking to people on Capitol Hill about increasing the total loan guarantee from $2 million to $3 million, increasing the percentage of the guarantee from 75 percent to 90 percent and waiving fees on loans to small business.”
The American with Disabilities Act proposed revisions are currently on hold, but many municipalities are requiring new standards for new builds in an effort to prepare for these new revisions—as are lenders and buyers.
“There’s another real problem for people selling properties,” McInerney said. “A lot of lenders are saying they need to have [proper ADA compliance]. The sellers are saying we’re in compliance with current standards, but [the lenders are saying] you have to be in compliance for what we anticipate these will be.”
None of the panelists were privy to exactly what Obama’s healthcare plan was going to be, but they were confident the plan would be out and passed sometime in the fall, regardless of what it includes. The reason is the budget bill included a provision for reconciliation of any healthcare plan vote.
“That means they can pass the legislation with 51 votes, which makes it filibuster proof,” Shay said. “From now until October they hope to get a bipartisan solution. The truth is that’s hugely challenging and we’re going to find ourselves in October with something being shoved upon us that we may not like."
McInerney expects a bill mandating seven vaction days for any company with fewer than 15 employees to be passed by the end of the month. The bill would affect hotel owners, but also it is seen as a positive for the industry.
“That might work in favor of the industry by having people with more time off,” Shay said.