On the second day of the Best Western 2020 Virtual Convention, leaders from several industry organizations gathered to discuss the ongoing lack of expanded support for the hospitality and travel sectors.
During the panel, prerecorded in mid-October, the leaders expressed their frustration at both the travel downturn and the lack of congressional support. Since the recording, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) adjourned the Senate until Nov. 9, meaning that no expansion of the spring’s Paycheck Protection Program would be approved before the election.
“The industry is hurting in a significant way,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “We already see hoteliers going out of business, losing their life's work, while Congress is worrying more about going back on the campaign trail to protect their own jobs than [about] the millions of jobs of the people they represent.”
AAHOA President and CEO Cecil P. Staton agreed with Rogers’ assessment, noting that most of AAHOA's nearly 20,000 members are small-business people. “They may own one hotel, maybe two or three—and obviously we have members who own more,” he said. One member employed more than 1,400 people before the pandemic struck. “Today, he has only about 400 employees. We’re doing everything we can to put this into perspective, that it is about loss of income—that it is, for so many of our members, about the potential to lose their businesses, their life's work, because they are small-business people.”
While the Paycheck Protection Program helped keep some businesses afloat, the deadline for applying passed long ago and the funds were not all used, leaving money leftover and employers looking for help—but no way to access it. “The problems still exist,” Rogers said. “We really need to come together and stop with the political nonsense. There are millions of people whose jobs depend on this and they've got to get something done.”
Some AAHOA members have complained to Staton that the initial forbearance they received from their lenders is ending, he said, and many banks are not feeling comfortable with extending forbearance to their borrowers for an extended period of time. “They're concerned about the implications for the [regulatory] ratings,” he explained. Solving this problem wouldn’t necessarily require any legislation—“It just requires some regulatory relief ... to really let banks know they're not going to be harmed by working with their lenders,” he said. One of the great threats of the moment is the potential for a massive growth in foreclosures and in bankruptcies over the next few months, Staton added. “With some regulatory relief, we can forestall that. We can prevent that from happening—and that's another thing we're advocating for each and every day.”
“Travel and tourism is the front door of economic development,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “No one ever moved a company, no one ever got a second home or a first home [and] no one ever decided what school their kids are going to go to till they made a trip or went to a meeting.”
To boost the industry, he suggested insiders keep talking to their local politicians about its value to the local community. “We’ve all got to tell good stories,” he said, and advised spreading the word about travel, meetings and events to encourage more travelers. “People are looking at other people to decide whether they should travel, and all we can do as an industry to get people traveling [is] tell the stories.”
Rogers claimed that the nation had been “paralyzed” by fear, and needed to overcome its concerns. “I'm sitting in Florida right now and I'm actually in the Panhandle. This place is booming. These hotels are full, these restaurants are doing outstanding.” Rogers then compared the scene to New York, which has reopened its businesses slowly and tentatively to avoid a sharp uptick in new cases. “We have to ask ourselves, which policies worked? Florida's economy is booming right now, at least in this part of the state for sure. Yet, if you look at the death rate per million population ... the death rate per million population in New York is four times higher than Florida. And so which policy is actually important?”