I attended the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Legislative Action Summit last week. The two-day meeting, held in Washington, D.C., brought together leaders from the U.S. hotel industry to discuss the legislative and regulatory issues affecting the lodging industry. This was my first LAS, and it will be the first of many. The invigorating and thought-provoking experience led me to learn a great deal about the state of affairs in our industry.
More than 20 students or recent graduates from hospitality schools across the nation were present, and I was fortunate to meet with several of them. I say fortunate because I feel lucky to have met the future leaders of the entire U.S. hotel industry. These students just “get it.” They showed up, they listened and they spoke up. But the next step is the most powerful: They will have to act. They will advocate, express opinions, inspire, research, affect change, innovate and represent.
The more than 250 attendees also invigorated me. Like the students, these leaders also “get it.” Being in the same room as these people felt like progress. They came to the summit with their own opinions, and these opinions were quickly transformed into one voice—a voice representing an entire industry on Capitol Hill.
Day one: labor and tax issues, and lobbying Congress
On Wednesday, 29 February, we reviewed the issues most important to our industry, discussing hotel labor issues, which highlighted the Department of Labor, National Labor Relations Board issues and the Congressional Review Act.
The discussion about the Online Hotel Booking Tax issue created a buzz around the room and was led by Mark Carrier, president of the B.F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, Melissa Froehlich Flood, VP of governmental affairs for Marriott International and Richard Turner, VP of government relations and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Also highlighted during this discussion was a presentation of the “Distribution Channel Analysis,” a report published by the American Hospitality & Lodging Association and the HSMAI Foundation. The report discusses the effects of channel mix on profitability and what the industry can expect in the near term in the distribution landscape. If you haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend it.
I also had the opportunity to interact with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Kathleen Matthews, executive VP of global communications and public affairs for Marriott, moderated a discussion along with the two Senators, who co-chair the Senate Tourism Caucus. Sens. Blunt and Klobuchar recently introduced bipartisan legislation to increase tourism by making the visa process more efficient without compromising security.
The afternoon was completed with an educational panel on “How to Lobby Congress.” The lobbying panel was led by two industry professionals: Thomas Maloney, manager of governmental affairs for Marriott, and Jonas Neihardt, senior VP of government affairs for Hilton Worldwide. They gave us tips for lobbying Congress, which included: Consider yourself an informational source, be organized, be concise, be flexible, stay on message, and try to make personal connections, and most importantly, follow-up.
The White House briefing we attended exceeded expectations. High-level security, long waits, metal detectors and long, dark tunnels were included with the price of admission. The first part of the briefing, specifically designed for the AH&LA LAS attendees, included a discussion on the Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy, led by Don Graves, executive director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at the White House and Douglas Smith, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for the private sector. This platform allowed the attendees to express concerns for our industry’s major issues, knowing these representatives work very closely with the office of the president.
The second half of the briefing was led by Bess Evans, policy analyst at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis, a White House fellow in the Office of the First Lady. They discussed the Summer Jobs Initiative, which is aimed at helping a quarter of a million young people find summer jobs, as well as the White House Joining Forces program, which is a national initiative that mobilizes all sectors of society to give service members and their families the opportunities and support they earned. The hoteliers listened and acknowledged their role in helping with these initiatives.
Day two: Presenting Congress with important hotel issues
On day two, we walked the halls of Congress, lobbying members of the House and Senate on the issues most pressing for the hotel industry. Because we were grouped by state, I got to know several of my state’s hotel leaders. We got together, practiced our “pitch” and went forward with one voice to meet with each district and state leader. We had meeting times already set up by the AH&LA, and we were greeted with open arms and minds.
Some issues, including discussions surrounding labor laws, health care and unions can be a bit tricky depending on the “D” or the “R” noted on their business card, but it was extremely uplifting to see and experience the enthusiasm supporting the fact that travel, tourism and lodging means job creation. This was something we all agreed on, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.
Throughout the two days, there were speakers from members of Congress discussing travel, tourism and hotels, including Sens. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts., Mark Begich, D-Arkansas, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Illinois. The speakers were thoughtful, engaging and each encouraged us to continue our efforts in fighting for what’s right in our industry. We have the AH&LA to thank for leading the fight.
Have you ever done something for the first time and then proverbially kicked yourself for not having done it earlier in life? That was how I felt after attending my first LAS. I can think of only two words that best describe my two days at the summit: educational and inspiring. This was a week full of firsts for me and sharing this with you all makes the experience complete.
I would be remiss for not mentioning and thanking some of the leaders that made for an impactful, educational and efficiently run LAS: Marlene Colucci, AH&LA’s executive VP of public policy; the governmental affairs staff of Lisa Costello; Kevin Maher; Shawn McBurney; Eric Reller and Anne-Wesley Teague; the convention and events staff of Barbara DiRocco; Katie Hais and Lauren Pravlik; AH&LA’s President and CEO Joe McInerney; Chairwoman of the Board Nancy Johnson, Executive VP and COO Pam Inman and Executive VP and CFO Joori Jeon also led us the whole way. I’m sure there are many others, and thanks to them all.
Lastly, major kudos goes to the staff of the JW Marriott Washington, D.C. for hosting the function. It can’t be easy to host 250+ picky hoteliers at once, and they knocked it out of the park in every area.
Good luck, have fun and hope to see you next year at LAS 2013.
Adam Zembruski is the president of Pharos Hospitality, a Charlotte, NC-based hotel investment platform explicitly designed to acquire, own and operate franchised upscale select service hotels. Adam oversees all operating entities at Pharos, including Property Assessments and Takeover, Sales and Marketing, Revenue Management, Human Resources and Culture Development, System Implementation, Financial Analysis, and Talent/Performance Tracking. Adam can be reached at 704-333-1818, ext. 12, or via email at email@example.com
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.