Lead Stories

Prioritizing Liability Protection

By Dennis Nessler | January 15, 2021

The recent U.S. election results, including last week’s Senate runoff in Georgia, could potentially have a significant impact on the lodging industry and its prospects for a quick recovery, according to a handful of leading industry executives.

The C-level executives spoke yesterday during an HVS & Lodging Conference 2021 webinar entitled “A View From The Top” Hospitality Insights & Strategies. Chip Rogers, President & CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association, moderated the discussion that included a focus on liability protection and tax reform, among other things.

Rogers emphasized the importance of getting the newly elected Congress to pass liability protection on behalf of business owners effectively enabling their employees to travel again.

“It is so critical not just to protect the business owner from what I like to term as a ‘shakedown,’ but to encourage business travel, which is necessary for us to get back where we were,” he said.

Dave Johnson, executive chairman, Aimbridge Hospitality, also stressed the urgency of “the release of liability” from corporations as it relates to business travel.

“Yeah we want to increase our profits as companies, but we want to get our employees back to work. Aimbridge had to lay off about 40,000 people and we’ve only called back about 15 percent. I’m all in for whatever we need to do as an industry to get this new Congress to realize if you want to restore jobs in an industry that’s probably been the hardest hit of any, we need this liability issue to be thrown out so we can put people back to work,” he said.

Rogers further added that while 13 states have passed liability protection the likelihood of Congress greenlighting the measure on a national level took a hit with the recent election results giving Democrats control. Nevertheless, he noted the association’s efforts continue.

“We at AH&LA continue to push at the Federal level and the State level, but the reality is what we don’t want is a patchwork of different states where we have protection here but don’t have it there. Then you as a business owner will have to try to determine where people are going to travel. We need a 50-state answer to this. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to unify around this point and let everyone know, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, that this is really important for us to return to economic health,” he said.

Johnson, meanwhile, who earlier noted “we’re all in this together” called out at least one high-profile leader for not doing his part.

“I lost a lot of respect for Jeffrey Bezos [Amazon CEO] when he comes out in March of ‘19 and says ‘we’re suspending all meetings and travel to the end of 2021.’ How irresponsible is that when he didn’t even understand COVID-19 and what the implications were? Whether it is or not it seems very self-serving that he’d like us all to stay in our living rooms and buy stuff on Amazon. What about all the millions of our employees that are out of work?” he asked.

Rogers pointed out another key issue for the industry centers around the potential reversal of tax reform, which was passed in 2017 and provided significant relief to many hoteliers.

Biran Patel, AAHOA Chairman, 2020-2021, remains hopeful that any changes will be minimal.

“I think that with our dialogues with the new administration over the past couple of months, educating the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, I feel some optimism. Even though the new administration is not in the hotel industry, we’ve had their ears on a daily basis with our government affairs team. From a tax perspective we are going to take somewhat of a hit, but hopefully not what’s being put out there and they will consider all angles of it,” he noted.

Justin Knight, CEO, Apple Hospitality REIT, Inc., expressed a similar sentiment.

“I think the new administration has signaled the economy is not in good shape right now. During the campaign there was a significant push related to taxes, but it seems unlikely and ill-advised for the new administration to pursue things of that sort until we’re back on steady ground from a national standpoint. I think there’s broad recognition within the incoming administration as well as with the outgoing administration of the importance of our industry, the number of people we employ, and the impact we have on national and local economies,” he said.

Geoff Ballotti, president & CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resort, further emphasized the importance of advocacy and getting the ears of lawmakers on such issues.

“These tax cuts have helped us thrive and prosper. To see all of that reverse now…it is all in the storytelling and there are stories that we need to tell and that can be told,” he said.

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