by EVELYN HOOVER
The voice of America’s hotel owners was heard loud and clear this fall when 100+ hoteliers from all over the country attended AAHOA’s Fall National Advocacy Conference (FNAC). In one day, hoteliers met with 118 offices in the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss legislation that can tremendously help AAHOA’s nearly 20,000 members and the industry at large thrive. In total, AAHOA Members had direct contact with 54 members of Congress in just one day! Following the productive day on the Hill, AAHOA hosted a reception for attendees and members at the Capitol Hill Club, drawing more than 30 members of Congress and their staff.
What are they saying about AAHOA’s Fall National Advocacy Conference?
“AAHOA has long understood the importance and significance of advocacy work at the state, local, and federal levels,” said AAHOA Chairman Neal Patel. “Having our voices heard on issues that are important to our members protects and promotes the rights of hotel owners and entrepreneurs in America.”
“From Fair Franchising to the Small Business Administration, providing lawmakers with personal, real-life stories, puts a name and a face to the American hotelier,” said AAHOA President & CEO Laura Lee Blake. “The next time these elected officials go to make decisions, they will remember us – the foundations we are laying in these meetings are critical to our advocacy work going forward.”
“What I want people to take away is that you can make a difference. Every legislator, every legislative person I spoke to, whether it be a senator or congressman, even staffers, have all said, ‘You guys got to come up on the Hill. You got to meet with us, and you got to tell us what matters to you most because that’s the key.’ From Iowa to Florida to Vermont to California. Everyone is talking about one thing. How do we rebuild America? How do we make things better?” said AAHOA Vice Chairman Bharat Patel.
“AAHOA’s presence in Texas is monumental, and our day on Capitol Hill reflected that. A large group of Texas members and I had the honor to meet with Senator Cruz in his grand office where he welcomed us all with open arms and a keen interest in everything we had to say, from labor shortage solutions to increasing SBA loan caps,” said AAHOA Treasurer Miraj Patel. “Advocacy happens when AAHOA Members act.”
“I was honored to be one of the many California AAHOA Members at this important event in D.C., letting dozens and dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill know that AAHOA Members own more than half of the hotels in the Golden State and contribute $62.9 billion to the state GDP,” said AAHOA Secretary Kamalesh Patel. “This advocacy-packed day may have ended, but AAHOA’s collective voice will continue to be heard in the halls of Congress thanks to the ongoing efforts of the AAHOA team and America’s hotel owners.”
“You have heard it said before. Women are the backbone of the hotel industry. From doing housekeeping to front desk to developing hotels to running and operating, women are there. This year, we launched the HerOwnership initiative to advance women hoteliers in hotel ownership,” said AAHOA Female Director Eastern Division Lina Patel.
“We are happy and overjoyed to have sat down in front of our legislators for whom we voted and have always listened to our concerns. We have certain bills that we want legislators to support, certain bills that we want them to oppose, and certain bills that we want them to sponsor,” said AAHOA Florida Regional Director Rahul Patel.
“It makes it special because we couldn’t get together during the height of COVID-19. Now, we’re finally getting back in the groove of things, and we’re actually able to meet face-to-face. It brings the momentum back,” said AAHOA Central Midwest Regional Director Arti Patel. “We saw each other at FNAC and discussed what’s happening in different states.”
“AAHOA is laser-focused on advocacy that will propel all hotel owners forward. We have strengthened our working relationship with some of the federal government’s top agencies, like SBA and FTC, and urged policymakers to push for bills that ensure small businesses thrive in the current economic climate,” said AAHOA North Pacific Regional Director Alpesh Jivan. “I was honored to be part of the AAHOA team bringing our powerful advocacy message to the halls of Congress.”
“We’re so excited to be here. We are happy to be back in D.C. after about three years. The last time I came was in 2019. We’re happy to be here and talk to our leaders,” said AAHOA South Carolina Regional Director Fenil Desai.
“I think the labor issue it’s the biggest issue facing the hotel industry right now,” said North Carolina Regional Director Pinkesh Patel. “I think if they can approve more H-2C Visas and get more immigrants to come here to work, then there’ll be more benefits for hotels and other industries as well.”
“Face-to-face is very, very important, just like any other interview that we do. It gets a personal touch when you’re able to shake their hand, meet with them, and look them in the face,” said Pinal Patel. “There’s a bonding experience you get at events like FNAC versus a zoom call or text message.”
“I represent the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, and my responsibilities as Regional Director are to advocate on behalf of our hoteliers in the region and help them solve the issues they are facing on a day-to-day basis,” said AAHOA Mid-South Regional Director Harikrishna “HK” Patel.
“Face-to-face is very, very critical. What makes it even more critical is the fact that we’ve come back from a global pandemic,” said AAHOA Past Chair Vinay Patel. “We haven’t seen each other in probably a couple of years. The fact that, as an association, we’re talking to congressional leaders after so many years is very, very important.”
“Something that I face in North Alabama might not be the same thing that other hoteliers face down in South Alabama,” said AAHOA Alabama Regional Director Sanjay Patel. “It’s important that we get a chance to sit down with our congressmen and let them know that what we are going through and give them the feedback.”
“As an acting member of the AAHOA Government Affairs Committee, I know the significance and importance of our work in advocacy,” said AAHOA Ambassador and Government Affairs Committee Member Darshana Patel. “Together with other members from Kentucky, we took to the Hill in full force, even meeting directly with Senator Rand Paul to discuss the challenges we face as his constituent hotel owners, job creators, and community leaders. Senator Paul heard us loud and clear, and I am excited for the future of our industry in Kentucky with Senator Paul’s support by our side.”
“I think it’s good for hotel owners, and for AAHOA, to speak to senators, representatives, congressmen, and congresswomen, telling them what we face every day in our businesses, what affects us, and what we can do to change the industry. I like to say that either you’re at the table or you’re on the menu. This type of advocacy work brings us to the table,” said AAHOA Florida Ambassador Mitesh Patel.
“The truth is that we don’t get any real change in this country without advocacy work from real people out in the communities. Otherwise, it just doesn’t happen,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). “With your calls and visits to members of Congress, we can get this done. What is good for you is good for your workers, and is good for your consumers as well.”
“I’m proud of the fact that AAHOA Members own almost 50% of the hotels in my state. You’re all the greatest small business owners in America. You are the backbone of our country,” said Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“You are responsible for many employees, their livelihoods, and providing wonderful hospitality for people,” said Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-WV). “I want to thank you so much for what you do and how you do it. My door is always open.”
“I think we can learn a lot from how we handled the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on your businesses. We know that there are labor issues. We know there are supply chain issues. We know high prices are a problem for you all,” said Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA). “We will continue to work on those issues on your behalf and support small businesses. There is no Fortune 500 company that doesn’t start as a small business. So thank you very much for all that you do. Thank you for having us here and inviting us to speak.
WHY IT MATTERS
Advocacy efforts have long-lasting effects on the industry and for generations to come. During this one-day advocacy event, AAHOA Members intentionally urged Congress to support four key issues:
- Promote access to capital by increasing SBA loan caps/limits and transparency
- Provide assistance with critical labor shortages: A new H2-C visa program and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Ensure fairness in franchising with a private right of action to address wrongful and material disclosure violations
- Provide financial relief for hard-hit hoteliers: Forgive Economic Injury Disaster Loans, waive interest, and/or defer for an additional year
Whether you’re a first- or third-generation hotel owner, a franchisee working with large hotel chains, or an independent hotelier, these four issues bring solutions for our members front and center. Solutions that can uptick employment rates, profitability, state and local tax contributions, and business sustainability.
CONGRESS AND BEYOND
AAHOA didn’t just make an advocacy splash in the hallways and offices of the Senate and House of Representatives. It also met with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya and FTC staff involved with oversight of franchising, including Consumer Protection Bureau Director Sam Levine. The meeting covered several issues important in the industry, including the many unfair practices in franchising and the FTC’s Franchise Rule.
The Fall National Advocacy Conference proved that AAHOA’s advocacy momentum is stronger than ever.