In late January, the U.S. Travel Association sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives specifying actions the federal government should take to ensure that travel- and event-industry suppliers can survive 2022 as the Covid pandemic continues to wreak havoc on leisure and business travel.
In particular, the letter, signed by leaders of more than 600 industry organizations, noted that domestic business-travel spending in 2021 was 50 percent less than in 2019. This has taken a toll not only on urban hotels that cater heavily to meetings and events but also on restaurants, transportation companies, and other businesses that support meetings and events.
USTA supports legislation featuring temporary tax credits and deductions, even though they relate mainly to the finances of meeting customers rather than suppliers themselves. These supports include:
• a convention and trade-show restart tax credit
• a 50-percent tax credit for travel expenditures
• suspending the limitation on entertainment expenses related to a trade or business
• an extension of the employee-retention tax credit
• a restaurant and dining restart credit for businesses closed or forced to reduce services due to Covid
Another recommendation in the letter is for legislation that provides direct financial assistance to hotels and other event suppliers. This would include expanding eligibility for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, or enacting a new relief program with a similar structure to RRF for travel-dependent businesses severely impaired by COVID-19 restrictions—including hotels, event planners, group tour operators, attractions, travel advisors, and others.
Industry Advocacy on Multiple Fronts
In addition to what’s happening under the U.S. Travel Association’s umbrella, individual travel and hospitality segments are lobbying on their own. According to this article in The Wall Street Journal, the hotel industry is pushing for the Treasury Department to cover roughly $20 billion in salary and benefit payments to employees of hotels that have seen revenue losses of 40 percent or more. The proposal has the backing of Unite Here, the labor union that represents about 300,000 hotel, laundry, and food-service employees.
“We are making sure that Republicans understand that within reason, there is a need for targeted relief” for some industries, Matt Haller, president of the International Franchise Association that represents restaurants, hotels, gyms, hair salons, and other franchise operations, told the newspaper.
Further, the National Restaurant Association launched a lobbying campaign for another $40 billion to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund on behalf of the nearly 200,000 restaurants that applied but didn’t get funding from a $28.6 billion federal fund that was quickly exhausted in 2021.
And the American Bus Association is seeking $6 billion for its members, many of which provide airport shuttle services, group charters, and destination tours. Bus-industry revenue fell by 83 percent in 2020 and did not rebound well in 2021 after the delta and omicron variants of Covid prompted new rounds of customer cancellations.
“As the Covid pandemic continues to impact the travel industry, providing additional federal relief and stabilizing policies will help all sectors of travel build an even recovery,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, USTA’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy. “Congress should enact these priorities as quickly as possible to enable the return of business travel and professional meetings and events, in addition to the international inbound travel segment.”