Hoteliers from the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association will meet with Congress during their Legislative Action Summit to discuss issues facing the industry.
WASHINGTON—Hoteliers with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association are heading to Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with members of Congress to talk about issues important to the hotel industry.
During afternoon sessions Wednesday at the joint AHLA and AAHOA Legislative Action Summit, attendees laid out their agenda for those discussions, which will include calling on Congress to permanently extend tax deductions for small businesses and lower rates for individuals, support career development and apprenticeship programs, cosponsor the “Stop Online Booking Scams Act” and cosponsor the JOLT Act for the visa waiver program.
To prepare for their meetings on The Hill Thursday, hoteliers heard from several speakers about the latest developments in labor, politics and tourism.
The number of open jobs has exceeded the number of job seekers for the last five months in a row, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said. The labor department is working to help more Americans find jobs and to help more job creators grow, by “tearing down unnecessary regulatory barriers,” he said.
As part of a comprehensive review of regulations, the labor department managed to remove 22 regulations for every one kept, which was ahead of its goal of eliminating two for every one, Acosta said.
Citing an editorial by Investor’s Business Daily, he said the labor department was the most “deregulatory department,” which led to an annual savings of $417 million in regulations so far this year.
The labor department also has been working on solutions for job creators, Acosta said. For example, it finalized a ruling that allows businesses to offer fully insured association health plans through organizations such as AHLA and AAHOA as a way to help small businesses provide health care for employees, he said.
“When someone starts a small business, they want to focus on their business,” he said. “Far too often, they are forced to focus on things like health care for employees. … We’re hearing from small businesses and employees, and this is something that is in demand.”
The department is exploring whether there could be a similar solution for retirement plans, he said.
The apprentice program promoted by AHLA is a great model for hotel companies and other industries, as there is a need to transform jobs into career paths, Acosta said, adding that he hopes he can expand it and that it will be “adopted by more companies in the hospitality space.”
Acosta encouraged hoteliers to attend listening sessions as the labor department holds public hearings on and revises rules on overtime. The department is also in the process of deciding how to provide a clear approach to joint-employer status, he said.
“It’s so important to understand the rules of the road,” he said. “As I talk to small businesses and large businesses, to employees, some want to know what does the law require—what are the rules? It’s confusing to have rules change by the power of amend. There’s something valuable to going through the rule-making process.”
Acosta also encouraged hoteliers to engage with members of Congress on the visa waiver H-2B program. Congress, for two years, has not taken a position on the cap for visa recipients, he said.
“From my perspective, it needs lots of improvement,” he said. “It has not changed for decades.”
Acosta added he has instructed his staff to take the paper process and automate it online—changes which should be realized over the next few months.
Putting plans to action
To grow the gross domestic product and the economy, the U.S. has to bring new people into the country, Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said. That means making people feel welcome and giving them a reason to be here, he said, adding that South Dakota has started to rebrand and promote itself everywhere, he said.
“You need to be able to share the vision of what you want to see happen,” he said.
Because of the state’s economic development and marketing, South Dakota with a population of about 138,000 people brings in 14 million visitors a year.* The state found women between the ages of 25 and 40 were making most of the vacation plans, so it tailored its efforts toward them, Rounds said.
“Are you doing the same thing with your national brand?” he asked.
Phil Lovas, deputy assistant secretary at the National Travel and Tourism Office at the U.S. Department of Commerce, came bearing good news for the hotel industry. Last year, the commerce department’s International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office suspended its practice of sharing numbers on international visitors to the U.S. after finding anomalies with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But now, after working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the NTTO is ready to share its numbers again, he said.
In 2017, nearly 77 million international visitors traveled to the U.S., and they spent $5.2 billion more (+2%) than in 2016, he said. A news release from the NTTO states spending by international visitors reached a record-setting $251.4 billion in 2017.
The nearly 77 million visitors represent a 0.7% year-over-year increase, he said.
South Korean visitors led the way, with a 17.8% increase, followed by Brazil (+11%), Argentina (+10%), Ireland (+9%) and Canada (+4.8%), he said.
The NTTO understands how important this data is to hoteliers and other industries to develop business strategies around international travel, Lovas said. The U.S. Department of Commerce is leading a range of initiatives to bolster the competitiveness of U.S. travel and tourism exports and support continued growth.
*Correction, 13 September 2018: This story has been updated to correct the amount of visitors to the state of South Dakota.