Leaders of the top lobbying groups for hotels and travel say the recent U.S. election presents signs of hopefulness, but there’s also work to be done convincing new lawmakers of the industry’s importance.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Leaders of the largest lobbying groups for the hotel industry and the larger travel industry are hopeful that President-elect Joe Biden, along with Republican leadership in Congress, will usher in a new era of bipartisanship and possibly direct help for hoteliers.
Speaking during the “Policy matters” session of the 42nd Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference webinar series, Cecil Staton, president and CEO of the Asian American Hotel Owner Association, said the members of his organization are hopeful for a new round of stimulus to help the industry through the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We recognize that it is likely, at least at this moment, that there will be a divided Congress, so any stimulus that may come forward will more likely than not have to be bipartisan,” he said. “The thing we realize in the aftermath of the election is that we certainly as hoteliers need to be engaged. We need to remain engaged in advocacy. We can’t let up right now. We still have to tell our story.”
He said a big part of that effort will be “educating new members of Congress who will come to Washington in January.”
Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said he wants to believe this can be a moment that marks the return of bipartisanship, but that’s yet to be seen.
“This is clearly one of those times where we should say to every elected official that the coronavirus is not red; it is not blue; it is not black; it is not white. It is all Americans. We’re all suffering,” he said. “And you guys have got to figure this out and stop pointing fingers.”
He said he expects “at least another round of” the Paycheck Protection Program during the lame-duck session, and more could be on the table in the new year.
“If you can get (U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell and (Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy) Pelosi together to at least pass the PPP, and you give that to (President Donald) Trump, he’s going to sign,” he said. “The second part of that, which we think would probably be a larger deal (and) get into things like lending that the mainstream Lending Act was supposed to do for us, will happen under the Biden administration. We think the Biden administration would be very favorable to get a deal done.”
Rogers said the election was a massive impediment for organizations pitching industry specific support, as many lawmakers used the election as “an excuse” not to move forward.
“Well, that excuse is gone,” he said. “They may still be counting votes in some places, but the election part is over.”
In addition to industry specific stimulus, the wish list for improvements in a new administration include more widespread testing to bolster traveler confidence, infrastructure spending and a widely distributed COVID-19 vaccine. News that Pfizer’s potential vaccine was shown to be 90% effective was a cause for hope for panelists, but how those efforts pan out remains to be seen.
Andy Ingraham, president, founder and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers, said you can’t underestimate how important widespread testing could be.
“Every jurisdiction, every country that’s gone to (widespread) testing has given the traveler the comfort level that they can still travel,” he said. “I think that’s critical.”
Hoteliers now must convince legislators of the importance of the industry and the need to support it.
“We’ve got to find a way to impress (on) every member of the Senate, every member of Congress that it is in our best interest to come to a common solution,” he said.
Moderator Jonathan Tisch, co-chairman of the Loews Corporation, pointed out that President-elect Biden is well-known for his heavy use of rail travel, and that could be a positive sign in terms of infrastructure investment.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Association, also said further investment in U.S. infrastructure is needed to support travel.
“I think we’ll get something moving. It’s been very frustrating to watch the infrastructure can get kicked down the road,” he said, noting he’s hopeful the president-elect will support investments in high-speed rail.
He said it’s gotten to the point that destinations don’t compete with other destinations as much as they compete with congested highways.
“If we can loosen up and get roads built, it’s going to be great for the economy,” he said. “And we’ve fallen behind at our airports. We used to have some of the top airports in the world. This is an opportunity to really not only jumpstart the economy but to build it for decades and decades to come.”
Dow pointed out what he believed to be an overlooked need for the next wave of stimulus: destination marketing organizations. He said budgets for destination marketing organizations have been decimated, but they were cut out from earlier stimulus spending because they are largely 501c3 organizations.
“It’s because some folks didn’t want to give money to lobbying organizations,” he said. “Now I’m partially a lobbying organization. I’m a big boy. We can handle this. We’ve got good reserves, but in the process, they cut out the DMOs, Broadway, museums. This is one of the most important things we’ve got to do … when the PPP comes back: get the DMOs included because they have no money.”
Panelists collectively greeted the idea of a vaccine in the relatively near future, but Rogers pointed out something has to be done before that vaccine is widely available.
“We have hoteliers who can’t make it to April,” he said. “We have some who can’t wait until you have the vaccine in place and spring and summer travel begins again. There are thousands of hoteliers who can’t make it to that point.”