by Peter Clerkin
“If you take one thing away from this event, make sure that you make advocacy a part of your ongoing business plan,” said AAHOA President & CEO Rachel Humphrey as she welcomed more than 400 hoteliers and hospitality professionals to the 2019 Legislative Action Summit in Washington, D.C.
The two-day summit, now in its fifth year, is a joint venture of AAHOA and the American Hotel and Lodging Association. On the first day, attendees received issue briefings from industry experts and political insiders and heard panel discussions featuring lawmakers. On the following day, they visited with their elected officials and staffers on Capitol Hill.
In their remarks to summit attendees, AAHOA Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala and AHLA Vice Chair Jon Bortz both stressed the importance of industry unity when it comes to advocacy.
“It is so important that our industry speak with one voice when we advocate on issues that affect the entire hospitality industry. When hoteliers, brands, and industry partners are united, we have the greatest impact,” Panwala said.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) addressed the summit’s general session on the first day and remarked on the impact that small businesses, such as hotels, have on local economies as well as legislation like the Save Local Business Act, which would codify the historical joint employer standard and bring clarity to industries that rely on the franchise business model. Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA) and Ralph Norman (R-SC), both AAHOA Members, participated in a panel discussion that touched on a wide array of topics, including the efficacy of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the hospitality industry’s one million-employee labor shortage, and finding bipartisanship in a divided Congress.
The AAHOA and AHLA Government Affairs teams briefed attendees on three key issues before Congress that affect the hospitality industry: Brand USA reauthorization, strengthening consumer protections in online booking, and empowering localities to shut down illegal hotels.
Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes the entire United States as a destination to international travelers, requires reauthorization before its funding stream redirects to a general fund in 2020. The program is funded at no cost to taxpayers by fees collected from international travelers to the U.S. and matched dollar per dollar by hundreds of businesses in the travel and tourism industry. The program’s successful 25:1 ROI helps generate billions of dollars in international tourism for the U.S. For many AAHOA 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 as travel destinations. Hoteliers met with key co-sponsors of the bill as well as staffers in the office of Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that will ultimately refer the legislation to the House for a full vote. The bipartisan legislation is expected to pass, but hoteliers made clear the urgency of reauthorizing it by 2020.
Hoteliers also pressed for congressional action on the Stop Online Booking Scams Act, a bill that would make it easier for the Federal Trade Commission to prevent third-party online hotel reservation websites not affiliated with a hotel from advertising listings if they are deceptive or otherwise misleading to consumers.
The week prior to LAS, Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) introduced the Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods (PLAN) Act, which would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to stop short-term rental (STR) platforms from profiting when they knowingly facilitate transactions for listings deemed illegal by local governments. Currently, STRs are claiming they are immune from local laws because they are protected by Section 230, a provision originally designed to protect bloggers and platform hosts from liability for objectionable third-party-generated content. The legislation would clarify that Section 230 does not shield Big Tech STRs from complying with state and local laws. Rep. Case briefed LAS attendees on the bill and thanked them for their support.
“This year’s Legislative Action Summit was very successful. Our members met with over 200 members of Congress and professional staff and, as small business owners, made the case for policies that have a direct impact on their and their employees’ livelihoods,” Rachel Humphrey said. “It was great to see so many AAHOA Members embracing advocacy as part of their business plan and showing up to Washington to make their voices heard.”