by Peter Clerkin
One of the pitfalls of working in an industry for a long time, whether it is hospitality, technology, finance, or even politics, is that one can easily forget that outsiders do not necessarily see or even understand the inner workings of or the day-to-day fundamentals that drive a business. Think of the hotel industry as a watch. Just as the watchmaker knows about all the levers, the gears, the springs, the plates, and the wheels, all the things that make the watch work, the hotelier knows how different staff and services come together to create a great customer experience. But like many people who look at a watch just see the dial, the hands, the case, and the crown, many guests or people outside the industry don’t see past the guest experience or the hotel itself to understand what makes it so great. What is clear to a hotelier or employee may not even register with a guest. AAHOA is working hard to bridge this gap for our lawmakers and to help them understand our industry and what makes for a great guest experience.
AAHOA first began organizing back of the house tours for Members of Congress in 2015. The principle is simple: take a lawmaker and show them how a hotel really works. From staffing the front desk to turning over rooms, the range of jobs at a hotel can demonstrate to an industry outsider everything that goes into delivering a great guest experience. One of the points that AAHOA’s advocacy team drives home time and again is that hoteliers are uniquely positioned to inform their legislators about the needs of the industry. Hoteliers can best illustrate firsthand how laws and regulations affect their workers and their bottom line, for how can someone who knows nothing about something create laws that affect it? (The answer, quite regrettably, is very easily, which is why advocacy and building relationships with lawmakers are so important).
While back of the house tours provide an excellent opportunity for AAHOA members to showcase their industry to elected officials, incorporating a roundtable with fellow hoteliers and the civic leaders following such a tour is a great way to hold a meaningful discussion about issues affecting the industry. In Cincinnati earlier this year, AAHOA government affairs staff helped organize a tour and roundtable with Cincinnati hoteliers and Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) at a Holiday Inn Express & Suites. Additional tours and roundtables took place with Oklahoma Representatives Tom Cole (OK-4), Frank Lucas (OK-3), and Steve Russell (OK-5), and Florida Representative Gus Bilirakis (FL-12).
Back of the house tours are not the only way to communicate to elected officials how hotels operate and what public policies may benefit the industry and its workers. Developing and maintaining a relationship with elected officials, whether they’re members of the local counsel, state assembly, or even Congress, is key to helping lawmakers understand how their laws affect the hotel industry. Whether one writes, calls, or visits their elected officials, building the relationship and sharing one’s views on issues such as occupancy taxes, the impact of short-term rentals, and the hotel industry’s proactive efforts to prevent human trafficking is key to ensuring that lawmakers are armed with the right knowledge before they vote on legislation that will impact small businesses.