This post is sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.
Katherine Lugar is president and chief executive officer of AH&LA. As the head executive of the largest trade association representing the U.S. lodging industry, Lugar implements and directs AH&LA’s services and works directly with the volunteer officers and board of directors in determining the industry’s major strategic initiatives.
Question: What is AH&LA doing to represent the industry?
Katherine Lugar: In an industry that can be fragmented by the very nature of our business model, we are working together with the same goals, a shared vision and more importantly, speaking with one voice through the American Hotel and Lodging Association. AH&LA remains committed to advocating for our industry, in and outside of Washington. In January, we changed our membership model to better reflect that our members wanted a greater focus on advocacy, and an association speaking with one, unified voice. Since then, our membership has more than doubled. And rarely before has AH&LA been so influential, so strong and its members so engaged. With many priorities before us – from labor issues to distribution to technology – we will continue to act on our industry’s behalf, and protect and grow jobs and the economy in communities around the country.
Q: What positive things happened for the hotel industry politically in 2014?
KL: AH&LA has been successful in a few key areas, and we look forward to more positive changes in 2015. While significant challenges remain in Los Angeles and Seattle, we have achieved successes in the fight against extreme minimum wage initiatives in other areas, primarily in Rhode Island, San Diego and Chicago. These initiatives, which increase wages too high and too fast, hurt our ability to protect our employees and create more job opportunities. We have also, along with our partners in the employer community, launched an initiative to restore the 40-hour workweek, which was changed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. This necessary fix to the ACA has also been identified as a top priority for the incoming Congress. Finally, as the year winds down, we are engaging our members for action on two important pieces of legislation. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed BrandUSA, a bill that promotes travel to the United States to potential international visitors. While that was a very important step, we now need the Senate to act. Meanwhile, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), and we are pushing hard for the House to pass a companion bill as well.
Q: What are some of the key issues that AH&LA is focused on in 2015?
KL: There are a couple of areas of early consensus that AH&LA expects to see in the new Congress. Both Speaker John Boehner and incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have identified the 40-hour workweek as a top priority in 2015. We also expect to see bipartisan agreement in the area of patent reform and reauthorization of BrandUSA if it does not get to the President’s desk before the end of the year. AH&LA will continue to pressure Congress for legislative action on the distribution front, especially as it relates to consumer deception from online travel companies or state tax fairness initiatives. As diverse as our industry is, our policy agenda is a broad one as AH&LA will continue to advocate for its members in areas of labor, healthcare, immigration reform and extreme minimum wage increases.
Q: How has the hotel industry fared economically in 2014?
KL: Our industry is truly the roaring engine spurring the economy. It has been a year of record growth, occupancy and hiring for our industry. In November, yet another jobs report was released showing continued job growth, marking more than four years of consecutive growth and the highest levels of employment for our industry. The hospitality sector remains the bright spot in the economy as hotels are driving the growth in communities across this country.
Q: What makes the hotel industry unique?
KL: So many people achieve the American Dream in the hotel industry. Not only does our industry pay its employees above the minimum wage on average and provide benefits, but we also offer incredible opportunities to climb the ladder of success. A recent study we conducted showed that more than half of our general managers began at entry level jobs. This story of success and achieving the American dream is one that we can expect to continue into 2015 and beyond.