Landing in Sacramento, California, on March 5 of this year launched my third year into the world of legislation and active political participation with my attendance at the California Lodging Industry Legislative Action Summit. Although politics were always an interest of mine, I never realized that it needed to be more than just an interest — it needed to become part of my role as a general manager and a representative of my company. For years I have served on boards, committees and chambers, standing dangerously close to the fringes of Political Action Committees (PACs) or Government Affairs Policy (GAP) meetings. So what changed?
We did. As we are impacted in ever-increasing ways by the legislation, regulation and resources, there are two choices: curse the darkness or light a candle. The battle over scarce resources and how they are allocated becomes even more important when economies struggle. Every two years the U.S. legislature reviews approximately 10,000 bills, of which approximately 400 end up as laws. International laws and guidance are implemented often at an even higher pace as the global economy moves. The pace of this change demands that we, who are affected by these pending laws, do everything we can to ensure the legislators and our governments have a complete picture before they register their vote.
My personal catalyst was when I once encountered a piece of legislation that was being introduced without any real facts behind the piece — it was all about getting the legislation on the floor. The bill would have been bad for our industry, and thanks to countless efforts across multiple fronts, the bill was pulled from the legislative process.
This past week at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, I gathered with a group of hoteliers, lobbyists, staff and representatives of the California legislature to attend the summit. The day would end with walking the halls of our capitol building seeking to ensure our political representatives understood the impact of the laws that are in front of them. It is a sobering process. Looking around the meeting room, I saw many familiar faces and some of my mentors who I knew from across my years as a hotelier. Starting with briefings regarding key pieces of legislation, special speakers and distribution of talking packets, we prepare for the formal marbled halls of the capitol building. I have been surprised with each part of the process as well as legislators or their staff who are informed, professional and polite to those who could be … let’s say less engaged.
There are countless organizations that represent the travel and tourism industry in influencing the legislative process: your city, chamber, travel organizations and hotel and lodging associations. Today’s general manager does well to keep themselves more than informed — we need to be engaged. Establishing relationships with our legislators early on will facilitate a meeting or active listening when the time comes, and we need their ear. It was interesting to note that this year in the California legislature there are 40 new freshman legislators, and they will have the opportunity to serve in their seats for the next 12 years. The emergence of new tourism destinations worldwide and opening borders to inbound and outbound travel require legal and regulatory infrastructure. There isn’t a better opportunity.
When I come back from the capitol, both state and national, I find that businesses and hotels are usually unaware and completely surprised by what is on the horizon. Our employees, our owners and ultimately our guests will be affected by this legislation. It rings loudly that protecting our industry requires more involvement.
I encourage all hoteliers to participate in person. However, if your time doesn’t provide the opportunity, there are other ways to be effective: petitions, letter writing (templates are usually available), emails and phone calls to legislators. Equally important when you can’t go is to support those organizations that can go by financially contributing to the effort. It is an investment into the future of our industry. Considering what’s at stake — it’s a bargain at twice the price. So we return to consider:
- Can we shape the future of our industry?
- Does your participation have value in the way our future business will unfold?
- The legendary hoteliers have held this standard for decades and continue to show up. Is our newer generation of hoteliers up to carrying on this task?
- Should our industry financially contribute to the political action efforts in light of what’s at stake: tourism, visa reform, immigration, taxes, costly regulation, labor, health care and so much more?
My response is absolutely. At a minimum you can be prepared and prepare others. The best-case scenario is that we can be part of positive change in our industry.
I look forward to hearing about your experience in this process — wins and losses!