From minimum wage increases to hotel taxes and subsidies for new conference properties, voters in mid-term elections on Tuesday were asked to weigh in on a number of issues that could affect where you hold your meetings and how much they will cost. Smart Meetings reached out to local experts to find out what you can expect once all the ballots are counted.
Finding people to work at events is an issue that is being debated through ballot measures, candidate stump speeches and on the streets as Unite Here!, the hospitality worker union behind strikes at Marriott properties across the country, is making demands for living wages, safety in the form of panic buttons and job security. The first week of November, the union announced that it had agreed to contracts in Oakland, California and Detroit, but 7,000 employees were still on strike at Marriott properties in California, Hawaii and Boston.
Additionally, in Oakland, California, minimum wage amendment Measure Z passed with 74 percent approval. The initiative supported by Unite Here! 2850 raised the minimum wage for the Bay Area city’s hotel employees from $13.23 to $15 with healthcare benefits.
Jan Freitag, senior vice president at the research company STR, explained that at the macro-level, staffing is linked at the hip to immigration issues. Hotels in large metro areas and rural resort areas are having a difficult time finding people to work in restaurants and clean rooms—to the tune of 900,000 openings in the industry as of the most recent jobs report. He said that traditionally immigrants have been a source of that labor. As the rhetoric from elected officials at the federal level has become more confrontational and the process becomes more difficult, that impacts hoteliers. “This is something planners need to be aware of,” he said.
American Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Katherine Lugar pledged that in the aftermath of the mid-term election, hoteliers will continue to work across the aisle to advocate for important policy priorities, which include increasing the talent pipeline, “upskilling” the workforce, comprehensive immigration reform, promoting international and domestic travel and tourism, and ensuring a level playing field in the lodging sector.
Transient Occupancy Taxes were on the ballot in a number of cities, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Laredo, Texas; and San Francisco. Transient taxes are always popular because the people voting on them are not the people paying them, Freitag said.
Voters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, renewed a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax. Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board Executive Director Kate Sollitt called the measure vital to providing fire, emergency medical care, maintenance, parks and other critical services to visitors and locals alike. As the Gateway to two National Parks, Teton County sees more than 3 million visitors every summer in a valley where the entire population is roughly 23,000. The lodging tax has been in place since 2010. “Without the lodging tax, the community would be hard pressed to provide services that are so necessary to mitigate the impact of visitors and maintain the well-being of our community,” she said.
In Laredo, Texas, voters approved a venue sales and use tax to relocate and expand a sports complex, but said no to a combined 5 percent motor vehicle rental tax and 2 percent hotel occupancy tax increase to pay for a Laredo Convention Center. Celina Villarreal, marketing manager for Visit Laredo, said planners there are creative about finding space. They combine resources at the three full-service hotels in town, golf courses, universities and even large ranches.
In San Francisco, voters approved a plan to earmark 1.5 percent of the 8 percent base hotel tax to arts and cultural services. San Francisco Travel promotes the arts as one of the key assets of the destination for meeting attendees as well as leisure travelers and supported the measure. Kevin Carroll, executive director of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, said, “The connection between our arts and our industry is huge. Arts make the city more vibrant. From pride parades to other cultural activities, it’s all tied together. It makes San Francisco the destination it is.”
“All of these taxes and fees for convention center renovations and special assessments add up,” Freitag said. “But the question is does it deter people from coming to meetings,” he asked. Then he answered: “The corporate traveler usually just sees it as a cost of doing business in a city.”
Ballot Box Development
Meeting infrastructure projects in Anaheim, California, and Miami were on the ballot. Voters gave the green light for the Beckham group—yep, a development company linked to the soccer superstar—to build Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion, 25,000-seat stadium linked to 750 hotel rooms.
City of Miami Beach voters also said yes to leasing public land for a privately-funded, 800-room hotel to be connected to the newly renovated Miami Beach Convention Center. A statement by The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau credited the development with making the destination more competitive, saying a convention center hotel is “the missing ingredient in the destination’s meetings and convention package.”
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow saw the elections as a starting point for conversations about the importance of travel and tourism for the economy. “We have long stressed that travel is not a red or blue issue—it’s a red, white and blue opportunity. Our approach might change slightly depending upon who’s in office, but our mission to make sure travel and tourism are part of the policy-making discussion never does,” he said.