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AAHOA leads by example by advocating for one of the hardest-hit industries during COVID-19

by NICK FORTUNA

Having endured crises such as the 2001 terrorist attacks and the global financial collapse of 2008, AAHOA Members know a thing or two about perseverance, and right from the start of the new coronavirus pandemic, the association has reflected its members’ moxie.

Buoyed by its approximately 20,000 members, AAHOA has been a tireless advocate for hoteliers and the broader hospitality industry since the first news reports of the pandemic. AAHOA’s leadership and government affairs teams have been a constant voice in the ears of lawmakers at every level, pushing for emergency financial assistance, the loosening of regulations, and other aid to keep hotels operating.

At the same time, AAHOA has been in constant contact with hotel brands and online travel agencies (OTAs), seeking the relaxation of brand standards, a reduction and postponement of royalty fees and lower commissions for OTAs. In a video message on April 23, AAHOA Treasurer Vinay Patel reassured members that the association has their backs during this time of unprecedented hardship for the industry.

“We’re facing some tough times right now, something we’ve never dealt with in our entire lifetime,” Patel said. “But I want to assure you that AAHOA is doing everything we can to come out on the positive side.”

Patel urged members to contact their elected officials, tell them how the pandemic has impacted their businesses, and let them know that they are working hard to keep their businesses open and retain their employees. He said members should encourage their employees to call or write their legislators and share their stories as well.

When a broad cross-section of industry stakeholders makes their voices heard, they bolster the case for aid to the hospitality industry in subsequent stimulus bills, Patel said.

“We as a community rarely ask for help, but in these dire times, we need to look to our government for assistance,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned over time is that to make a difference, we all need to be involved. Now is the time to use your relationships and your role in your community to make sure that we’re maximizing all of the resources that we have.”

Patel asked members to be on the lookout for state-specific action alerts from AAHOA, which offer an easy way for members to advocate for the industry. In addition, he encouraged members to engage with their state lodging associations, which can leverage their relationships with city and county officials to address issues, and to contact their local utility providers to see if there are any programs that would help them save money.

“We’re all in this together,” Patel said. “As we work through these challenging times, remember that AAHOA is here for you. We’re strongest when we’re united.”

Here is a summary of AAHOA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of members from the start of the pandemic through May 4, with more certain to follow in the months ahead.

MARCH 13: AAHOA sends letter to Congress
The letter calls for a robust package of tax cuts, tax credits, regulatory relief, and financial assistance for the hard-hit hospitality industry.

“Hoteliers and their employees are suffering at levels that have not been seen in recent memory and, in some cases, ever,” AAHOA President & CEO Cecil P. Staton wrote. “This is not simply a storm that the industry will eventually weather. It is a shockwave that will have consequences and repercussions for years to come.”

MARCH 16: Staton sounds the alarm for the industry
Staton appeared on Fox Business Network and said that with occupancy rates cratering, the industry is facing a liquidity crisis and needs emergency financial assistance.

“Right now, we’re in a world of hurt, and it has to do with occupancy,” he said. “Our members are going to be facing severe challenges to make the payroll and pay the mortgage every month.”

The association also set up a new email address – covid19@aahoa.com – to field members’ questions.

MARCH 18: AAHOA calls on members to contact lawmakers
AAHOA issued an action alert calling on members to contact their local, state, and federal representatives to advocate for the industry. AAHOA provided letter templates for members to use, pointing out that its members own almost half of the hotels in the United States, employing approximately 600,000 workers and accounting for more than $10 billion in payroll annually.

In a show of solidarity and strength, members sent more than 21,000 letters to legislators in the first week, a figure that would subsequently swell to 25,000.

MARCH 23: AAHOA and industry partners contact legislators
AAHOA, in partnership with the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers and the Latino Hotel Association, urged Senate leadership to include the hospitality industry in the proposed CARES Act stimulus package. The associations pushed for significantly higher funding levels for assistance programs, as well as for a loan-guarantee program, a period of loan forbearance with lenders, and an extension of loan maturity dates.

Separately, AAHOA sent a letter to governors urging them to recognize hotels and motels as essential businesses that should be allowed to remain open. In addition, AAHOA and its industry partners continued to pressure Congress to act as negotiations stalled on the CARES Act.

“America’s small businesses and their employees are running out of time while Washington insiders play politics with their futures,” Staton said in a statement. “Congress needs to come together and deliver critical financial assistance to the industries and workers hit hardest.”

MARCH 27: AAHOA applauds passage of the CARES Act
In a statement, Staton lauded the stimulus package, which created the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and expanded the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, both administered by the Small Business Administration. However, Staton made it clear that the bill doesn’t do nearly enough to address the impact of the pandemic on hoteliers and their employees.

“The formula for determining maximum loans still does not provide enough liquidity for hotel owners,” Staton said. “We will continue to work with our industry partners and leaders in Washington to strengthen the loan and grant program in subsequent legislation to allow hotel owners to continue meeting their payroll, operational, and mortgage obligations during this pandemic.”

APRIL 8: AAHOA again sends letter to governors
The letter urged governors to temporarily suspend property taxes, penalties for late payments, and fees for hotels; temporarily postpone the various taxes hotels are subject to; and consider enacting a bridge-loan program for businesses.

April 9: AAHOA launches Brand Survey to advocate on the behalf of franchisees
AAHOA has been working around the clock to seek immediate financial relief for hoteliers from every possible source, including from franchisors, government officials and organizations, vendors, OTAs, and others. On April 9, AAHOA launched a Brand Survey to ask franchisees to share their perspective on the relief they’ve received from franchisors thus far and specific requests they think will provide the greatest additional relief in the long- and short-term. Based on the feedback, AAHOA has been engaging in high-level discussions with the brands in order to improve communications and relationships between them our members.

APRIL14: AAHOA calls for more PPP funding
With the PPP’s funding of $350 billion set to run out within two weeks of the program’s launch, AAHOA urged Congress to return to Washington. Lawmakers weren’t expected back until May, and Staton said the nation’s hoteliers can’t afford to wait that long.

“Hotel owners and their employees are hurting now and scraping by week to week,” Staton said in a statement. “Hotels across the country are furloughing or laying off employees and shutting their doors, and unless Congress acts, we could see thousands more close their doors before the end of April.”

APRIL 16: AAHOA again urges Congress to act
With PPP funding exhausted, AAHOA again called on Congress to pass another stimulus bill immediately. Hotels and restaurants made up only 8 percent of businesses receiving the first batch of PPP loans.

In a statement, Staton said the hospitality industry was among the first to feel the economic effects of COVID-19 as thousands of events were canceled, and it will be among the last to recover because of barriers to travel.

“Hotel owners and their employees are among the hardest hit by the economic effects of this pandemic,” Staton said. “Congress must immediately authorize additional funding for this crucial capital lifeline and direct the Small Business Administration to permit lenders to continue submitting applications into a queue so that valuable time is not lost while we wait for Congress to act.

“The virus and its effects on our economy continue to make millions of Americans suffer, and congressional inaction is only compounding that pain. I’ve spoken with countless hotel owners, and many are still awaiting action on PPP loan applications.”

APRIL 21: New webpage for vendor deals
AAHOA set up a webpage offering deals to members from industry partners. The special offers are aimed at helping hoteliers save money during the pandemic.

APRIL 22: AAHOA offers free health resources
With almost half of American adults saying the pandemic has impacted their mental health, AAHOA, in partnership with UnitedHealth Group, offers several free health resources to members, their employees, and their families, including hotlines for mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention. More information is available on the Health and Wellness section of AAHOA’s website.

APRIL 23: AAHOA praises passage of the most recent stimulus bill
Staton said AAHOA is grateful for the passage of the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which replenished PPP funding. But he urged Congress to extend PPP funding through the year’s end, saying the bill still doesn’t provide hotel owners with enough liquidity to weather the pandemic.

On average, PPP loans cover only about 47 percent of a hotel’s operating costs, and many hotels are seeing single-digit occupancy rates, he said. Staton said policymakers also should give more consideration to a business’s debt obligations, such as mortgages, as they formulate relief loans and determine how they may be spent.

“The stimulus does not address the reality that this crisis will not be over in a matter of weeks,” Staton said. “Public caution and conflicting messages from government officials about reopening will mean a slow return to travel, tourism, conventions, and meetings. This means that hotels will be one of the last industries to recover.

“Without targeted and meaningful support, policymakers run the risk that thousands of hotels and the millions of jobs they create may not be around when the recovery from this pandemic begins.”

APRIL 24: AAHOA calls for passage of insurance bill
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced the Never Again Small Business Protection Act. The bill would require business-interruption insurance to cover businesses and nonprofits for losses stemming from all government-ordered shutdowns following the declaration of a national emergency. Coverage would support businesses impacted for at least 30 days as long as they retain their workers and maintain their health-insurance coverage.

In a statement, AAHOA Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala stressed the importance of the bill, saying many hoteliers who had faithfully paid their premiums for years have been blindsided by fine print in their policies or by the unprecedented government measures aimed at flattening the curve, which devastated the industry.

“As government travel restrictions to curb transmission of COVID-19 began to take their toll on the nation’s hotel owners, we expected to rely on our business-interruption insurance to help pay our bills and keep our staff employed,” Panwala said. “Unfortunately, so many of us have been told our policies do not cover shutdowns such as those ordered by the government in response to this pandemic.”

MAY 4: AAHOA Joins Other Industry Groups in Establishing Minimum Recommended Standards for Health and Safety
AAHOA is proud to represent America’s hotel owners on the advisory council that developed Safe Stay, an industry initiative focused on hotel cleaning standards. Safe Stay, led by AHLA and in partnership with AAHOA and other members of the advisory council, is an industry-wide enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. Also released the same day, AAHOA was a contributing organization to the Travel in the New Normal guidelines, issued by the U.S. Travel Association, which describes vigorous measures the travel industry will follow to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and help to communicate across each and every step of a traveler’s journey.

 

WRITE TO YOUR LEGISLATORS

In letters to legislators, hoteliers should include the following information:

  • Occupancy rates before and since COVID-19
  • General COVID-19 concerns as they relate to your business
  • Your solutions to these concerns
  • How you have managed your workforce
  • What you expect to see on your property in the next four weeks
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