The momentum behind the United States’ National Travel and Tourism strategy, which includes an ambitious goal of attracting 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021, makes it a ripe time for lodging industry members to get involved with grassroots campaigns on legislative and regulatory issues, a group of panelists said Monday during the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s fall conference in Manhattan. Women in Lodging (WIL), the AH&LA’s industry-wide forum for female hospitality professionals, sponsored the seminar to empower women in the political process.
“We have amazing story as an industry to tell,” said Blain Rethmeier, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations for the U.S Travel Association. “During the economic recovery, the travel industry has added more jobs more quickly than any other sector. We are the number one export in America. The more you can do to get engaged and get smart about the issues, the smarter we can be in a united industry.”
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said businesswomen who can offer solutions for industry issues have a powerful message they can take to Capitol Hill. “I think women business leaders in the hospitality industry can play a really strong role in helping us tell the story,” DeFife said.
Among the key issues that are critical for the lodging industry is improving the visa process for foreign travelers to the United States. Streamlining the process would allow the United States to regain its share of the global travel market lost after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, said Nancy Johnson, executive vice president of development at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, outgoing AH&LA chair, and WIL founder. “For every 64 international travelers to the United States, one job is created,” Johnson said. “Can you imagine if we were able to regain that market share?”
When legislators hear real life examples directly from the lodging employees who work in their districts, it can be more persuasive than arguments made by professional lobbyists on the industry’s behalf, said Marlene Colucci, who serves as executive vice president of public policy for AH&LA. For example, when hotel owners and operators expressed their concerns to legislators regarding pool lift requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, their advocacy efforts made a significant impact on the Department of Justice’s decision to postpone the ADA compliance date for existing pools and spas. “We turned around the pool issue overnight just because we had legs, people on the ground, making that point,” Colucci said.
It’s especially vital that young hospitality students who are about to enter the workforce support industry issues on Capitol Hill, Johnson stressed.
“It is our job to make sure the free enterprise system is maintained in America, that we watch the regulations that take away the profit from owners, which causes them to decrease the number of jobs they have available for all of you,” Johnson said. “That is why you have to get involved.”