Association leaders talk issues

While the tone at the 44th annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference at the New York Marriott Marquis was a positive one, the industry is still facing hurdles as it continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Policy Update session, moderated by Jeffrey Stewart, conference vice chair and founder/president, Walnut Hill Advisors; association leaders Brian Crawford, EVP, government affairs, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA); Andy Ingraham, president/founder/CEO, National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD); Laura Lee Blake, president/CEO, AAHOA; and Lynette Montoya, CEO, Latino Hotel Association, offered their takes on the current issues affecting the industry.

Crawford said that the other issues will take up the majority of the time of Congress, moving away from legislation that may help the industry and that policies of the Biden administration will affect hospitality. “Congress grinding to a halt will not get much done; filling the void will be enforcement activity and regulatory activity,” he said. “And that’s why it’s important that all of our organizations are united in speaking with one voice on behalf of the industry when we talk to the Hill to talk to the federal government.”

Ingraham noted that it is important to speak to government leaders, especially state, city and local government officials. “Part of our huge issue is educating them on two things,” he said. “Number one, our industry. They have a view that every hotelier is a multimillionaire and we’re the bad guys, and we’re not. We’re creating jobs that fuel our economy, which is important. The other thing that we find really interesting is that they’re also concerned about the diversity of our industry. And we’ve got to show them that…this is not only a great industry, but it’s a great industry that provides opportunities for everybody and for us working with all these organizations. We’re getting the message across. It’s difficult and sometimes we need all of you to call your elected officials and use your relationships; it makes our job easier.”

Seemingly, no discussion of issues facing the industry can avoid the topic of the labor shortage, and Blake said that AAHOA has encouraged the administration to increase the number of H2B work visas, after already adding 35,000 earlier this year. “We are also working with a diverse coalition of groups to come up with a new H2C visa, which would apply to hospitality workers in an attempt to address, as they call it, the ‘Great Resignation’ of workers in this country, which has led to this labor shortage,” she said.

Montoya said that like many other groups in the industry, Latinos have a great desire to work in the hotels, but at the same time, they’re also looking at other opportunities. “Latinos who are in the U.S. feel like they have had to work extra hard to get where they need to go,” she said. “So, we want to make them welcome and give them the opportunity for advancement.”