President Donald Trump's State of the Union address ended just past 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast; that's when two of the lodging industry's largest representation organizations, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, fired off their responses to the speech. Two things were clear in both: they were written well in advance to the speech's delivery and were pro-Trump agenda.
The AH&LA's statement hit my inbox precisely 20 seconds after Trump's speech ended and was delivered by Katherine Lugar, CEO of the AH&LA, which, according to its website, has more than 24,000 members. Not unexpectedly, it focused primarily on the economy: job growth and tax cuts.
“Tonight, President Trump laid out his agenda to seek continued job creation and economic growth," the statement started off. "The hotel industry has been one of the key drivers of economic growth, supporting 8 million jobs and generating $1.1 trillion in annual economic activity. With three out of every five hotels considered a small business, the hotel industry is especially focused on policies that encourage business growth and empower our nation’s entrepreneurs. The President touted the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which AHLA supported and we believe will spark economic growth."
The lodging industry is a success story, and is also a small-business success story. Many of the 54,000-plus hotels in the U.S. are owned and operated by small-business entrepreneurs, many of whom are members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association or AAHOA, which has nearly 18,000 members.
Its statement, briefer than AH&LA's, was equally supportive of the President's message and agenda. “President Trump’s speech serves as yet another reminder of the great things our nation can accomplish when we work together," wrote Chip Rogers, AAHOA's CEO. "Whether it’s allowing more Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money, investing in and redeveloping our roads, airports and other infrastructure, promoting the United States as a destination for the best and the brightest the world has to offer, and fixing an immigration system in crisis, we are united by common goals that will grow our economy and strengthen our nation."
Roger's mention of promotion of the U.S. as a destination, however, appears to be inconsistent with the Trump administration's messaging and policies that include a travel ban, which affects residents of six majority-Muslim countries: Syria, Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The Supreme Court has said it will rule on the controversial travel ban by late June.The travel ban has been taken to task by many hotel CEOs, and was presumably responsible for the formation of the Visit U.S. Coalition, whose aim, somewhat counterintuitively, is "to partner with the Trump administration to reverse the decline in U.S. competitiveness for international travel dollars."
Lugar's statement also tackled the dip in U.S. inbound travel, and while most of her response championed the Trump agenda, she did ring the alarm on the travel-decrease dilemma. “As we look at our domestic economy and future job creation, the decline in international travel to the United States causes real concern. Travel and tourism is our country’s second-largest export. Even though international travel is expanding around the globe, fewer people are choosing to come to the United States. The decline in international visitors to the U.S. has resulted in $32.2 billion in lost spending by those travelers, and 100,000 fewer American jobs. We urge the Administration to send a welcoming message to the world and adopt policies that promote international travel to the United States while maintaining our security. Doing so will help our country reach the President’s domestic economic goals."
The U.S. missed out on the opportunity to create 100,000 American #jobs when it lost its share of int’l #travel in 2015. Welcoming Int’l travelers = economic growth. https://t.co/6BDqH52at7 #WEF18 pic.twitter.com/3Wwdbr9RdY— Visit U.S. Coalition (@welcometotheus) January 25, 2018
Immigration is an incendiary issue impacting the U.S. as a whole and the hotel industry, specifically. Rogers called the immigration system "in crisis," while Lugar elaborated: “The hotel industry thrives because our employees are as global as our guests. We thank the President for his commitment to finding a much-needed solution to our nation’s immigration policy. We support a balanced approach to immigration reform that increases our border security while also meeting our workforce needs. There are several immigration programs that are vital to our industry, which has a large component of international workers. We urge Congress and the White House to find a workable solution to these programs. We also call on Congress and the White House to resolve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Protecting Dreamers is common sense, compassionate and good economic policy. It’s time for Congress to act."
President Trump's speech did not address DACA by name.
Tax cuts were a central theme of Trump's address: "As I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history. Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses," he said.
"We are heartened by the prioritization of small business owners in the recent tax overhaul and are optimistic that the Administration and Congress will continue in this vein to promote free enterprise and champion the avenues to economic success and freedom that make our nation great," Rogers said.
Hand in hand with taxes was the promise of an infrastructure package. "As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure," Trump said. "I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need."
Any investment in infrastructure is a boon for the lodging industry. "We applaud the President’s commitment to further stimulating economic growth by investing in infrastructure," Lugar noted. "Our industry recognizes the importance of infrastructure enhancements to supporting travel and tourism. We look forward to learning more about the plan and working with the Administration and Congress to make this a reality."
Not everyone was happy with Trump and the AH&LA's statement. One Twitter responder, @sonofelmer4, wrote: "How can AHLA support a leader who promotes policy and rhetoric blatantly detrimental to the very workforce needed to operate our hotels!"