AAHOA board members and 180 ambassadors descent on the U.S. capital for two-day national spring advocacy conference.
Top leaders and regional ambassadors of Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association (AAHOA), by far the most influential Indian American trade group, descended on the nation’s capital this week to lobby for its key legislative priorities.
Some 180 AAHOA board members and ambassadors met more a dozen United States Senators and over 200 members of the U.S. House of Representatives during the organization’s two-day national spring advocacy conference, which concluded in Washington, DC, on March 8.
Those present included AAHOA Chairman Nishant (Neal) Patel, Vice Chairman Bharat Patel, Treasurer Miraj S. Patel, Secretary Kamalesh Patel, President and CEO Laura Lee Blake, as well as a number of regional directors.
“The spring advocacy conference was a tremendous success,” AAHOA Government Affairs Committee Chair Danny Gaekwad told the American Bazaar Wednesday evening. “The fact that top leaders and ambassadors were able to meet with more than 200 members of U.S. Congress shows the prowess of AAHOA. All politics is local and personal. Kudos to all our members who have cultivated personal relationship with political leaders in their respective states.”
Gaekwad, a prominent Republican donor, also credited the AAHOA leadership, which he described as young, vibrant and dynamic.
One of the key legislative priorities for AAHOA is the elimination of a cap on the seasonal H-2B visas, which are used by the hospitality industry. In the current fiscal year, the maximum number of foreign workers allowed to come to the country is 66,000.
Gaekwad, who runs several hotels in Ocala, FL, and other hotel owners say the industry is hampered by a severe labor short industry. AAHOA is calling for the elimination of the H-2B cap and the creation of a new H-2C visa program.
Gaekwad said the delay in processing the B-1/B-2 visa in the aftermath of Covid-19 is also hurting the hospitality industry. In Florida alone, there is a 40 percent drop in international tourists due to delays in tourist visa processing, especially in U.S. missions in South America. “The worker visa process needs to be streamlined,” he said.
Two other priorities for AAHOA leaders are getting the Small Business Administration loan limit amount increased and making the Earned Income Tax Credit expansions permanent, which, according to the organization, will help bring needed workers back into the labor force.
The spring national advocacy conference was kicked off at the Ronald Reagan building Tuesday afternoon. On the first day, delegates were addressed by, among others, two members of the House of Representatives from Georgia, the state where AAHOA is headquartered, Richard McCormick, a Republican, and Nikema Williams, a Democrat.
A reception held at the Senate Hart building on Tuesday evening was attended by several members of Congress, including Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Chuck Edwards (R-NC).
“We appreciate the jobs you create, we appreciate the tourism that you helped promote,” said Hyde-Smith. “Everything you do here in our state and every other state we appreciate.”
The junior senator from Mississippi said AAHOA members are valuable to members of Congress. “[We] want to be here for you,” she said. “We want to know what your needs are, and we want to carry the water for you. We want to carry the torch for you, and we want to be the senator that you come to and that we can help you address your needs.”
Paulina Luna, a first-term congresswoman, said, being a representative from Florida, which has a tourism-based economy, she appreciated the hotel industry.
Another first-term member of Congress, North Carolinian Edwards said being a McDonald’s owner, he understands the small business model and applauds AAHOA leaders for making the trip to the Capitol Hill.
“It’s really a trip like this [to] Washington, DC, where I came up and met with the congressional offices, many years ago, that led me to public service,” he said. “And I recognized on that trip that folks up here that do not sign the front of a paycheck just don’t understand the types of issues that you face day in and day out, yet the decisions that are made-up here very much impact your ability to earn a living, to provide for your clients, to provide for your employees, and to meet the various regulations that are out there.”
Braun, who is running for governor of Indiana in 2024, thanked AAHOA leaders for sticking their neck out, taking risks and building “something that is meaningful.” He hoped that
“sooner or later, it will get to be a better place… that has regulatory environment that doesn’t disincentivize.”
According to AAHOA, the organization represents close to 20,000 hoteliers and the 34,000 plus hotels owned by its members employ more than 1 million. AAHOA members represent more than 60 percent of all hotels in the United States.
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Read: Five Indian Americans among AAHOA 2020 Award Winners(August 18, 2021)
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AAHOA begins Legislative Action summit (October 22, 2013)