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Get Your Politics On!

The AHLA held its Legislative Action Summit this week. Here’s why storming The Hill is so important.

Thursday, April 25, 2013
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Are you getting political? Well if you’re not, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to make a difference in the hotel industry. And truthfully, lack of political involvement can result in legislation being passed that could make people very unhappy. Take stricter ADA requirements, which among other elements, requires those pool lifts that everyone must install now.

So if you are bummed about that expense, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you can make a difference to alleviate additional burdens in the future by getting involved.

This week around 300 top lodging industry professionals gathered in the nation’s capital to storm The Hill and make lodging industry issues known to Members of Congress. It was the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s annual Legislative Action Summit and it was a great opportunity for the hotel business to be heard by those that craft and pass the rules.

We’ll get more into the specific issues next week, but if you are interested in seeing what’s critical now, click here.

The event is always a great window into better understanding how government works (or as many think these days, does not work) and gives people an opportunity to meet face to face with elected officials in their offices and at the event.

This year, several leading politicos made their way to the Legislative Action Summit to share their thoughts on government overall and issues pertaining specifically to the hotel industry.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) seems pretty aligned with hotel industry issues as Maine’s second biggest economic driver is tourism. With about 14 million tourists visiting Maine annually -- that’s 10 times more visitors than residents -- she is very keen on issues such as immigration reform and making it easier for international travelers to come to the United States.

She is calling for reforms to H2-B visa rules to include and exemption for returning workers from the current cap of 66,000 visas per year. She believes this will make it easier for hotel operators to take advantage of this program. Last year Collins said all visas were gone in one week, making it tougher for many hotels to get the foreign seasonal workers they needed to properly run their properties.

Collins also called for the expansion of the visa waiver program for certain countries. That will allow more people to come to the U.S. easier. She said people visiting America is, “one of our economy’s most powerful drivers, totaling $168 billion last year. That’s new money from far away. The benefit could be ever greater [in the future because] during first decade of this century global international travel increased 40 percent while we [USA] dropped. We failed to keep pace and I have long supported the increase of international travel but not at expense of national security,” said Collins, adding that she thinks the country can protect its boarders from ne’er-do-wells while simultaneously making it easier for foreigners to get access to the USA quickly.

Collins believes passing the so called JOLT Act, which addresses the above issue, could attract as many as 98 million visitors and generate $850 billion by year 2020 while creating 1 million jobs. The general rule here is that for every 35 visitors to the USA a job is created.

Steny Hoyer(D-MD), Minority Whip in the House of Representatives, spoke to the group about the challenges facing our country and unfortunately for the most part just spoke in generalities about Congressional representatives needing to work together and how the current sequestration is an “irresponsible defying common sense solution.” He did not however, offer any solutions to these issues.

He did say that, “Fiscal stability or instability will affect every one of your bottom lines. It affects interest rates and the perception of people around the world of the USA.”

On fixing the broken immigration system he said the only way to do it is by creating a comprehensive plan. That is instead of addressing a one or two issues at a time; work them all out in a single big bill.
“In order to pass immigration reform there will have to be a comprehensive plan. I urge you to support a comprehensive plan. Not everyone will like every part of it, but that is democracy. We can achieve this this year,” said Hoyer.
It may be our editorial opinion but the best political speak went to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who takes the position of being above political infighting. Instead she is focusing on how to move people freely, but securely.

She blasted the current sequestration as foolhardy and limiting her ability to provide proper services, particularly at the nation’s airports.

“Sequestration is not the way to manage shop. I have to cut millions [from the budget] in next three months. We are working to manage cuts in a way that minimizes furlough and reductions in overtime. But this limits our ability to do a lot of the things we do. We have gotten criticism because people didn't see the affect right away because it creeps up over time,” said Napolitano.

Sequestration is really hitting the nation’s airports hard this week. According to FlightStats, here are cancellations and delays for this week, many of which are caused by sequestration related issues.
  • Wednesday, April 24 - 402 flights cancelled, 6,865 delays
  • Tuesday, April 23 - 385 flights cancelled, 6,396 delays
  • Monday, April 22 - 404 flights cancelled, 7,027 delays
  • Sunday, April 21 - 207 flights cancelled, 4,842 delays
Napolitano also said the TSA does an average of 2 million screenings per day at airports and other ports of U.S. entry. Additionally, she said our current system is the largest and most complicated system globally and international arrivals were up 12 percent during the last three years. That number is expected to grow an additional three to four percent per year for the foreseeable future.

“Safe travel is essential to economic wellbeing and to stimulate growth,” she said while discussing how TSA is moving to a more risk based approach at assessing dangerous people. She said The Global Entry Program and its pre check spinoff are helping to make travel easier. By the end of the year Napolitano believes one in four travelers will be eligible for expedited screening.

Pre check is currently in 40 airports and expanding as airlines and airports invest in the system, which rolls back the typical security to check to what it was like before 9/11.

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