There's been a lot of bad news coming from the nation's capital in recent years. But for the hotel industry, that trend has reversed, perhaps temporarily, in the past few weeks. Hotel owners and owners of all small businesses scored a major legislative victory last week as the Senate passed the Small Business Jobs Act.
If passed by the House, as is scheduled to happen this week, and signed by President Obama, the new law should help entrepreneurial hoteliers in a number of ways:
• It will create a $30-billion capital investment fund community banks can use to extend financing to hotel owners.
• It increases the SBA (7) loan limit from $2 million to $5 million, enabling more developers to secure enough financing to build smaller, primarily limited-service hotels.
• It provides $12 billion in tax relief to small businesses over the next 10 years.
While not a panacea for all that ails the hotel business, this measure should help the industry as it slowly recovers from the effects of the nation's crippling recession and the near meltdown of the financial industry.
It's not all clear sailing, however. Congress has several bills to consider that have the potential to do more harm to the hotel industry than the good the small business jobs bill achieves. One, the Employee Free Choice Act, would greatly simplify unionization of the hotel industry, even at very small hotels. The other, the Internet Travel Tax Fairness Act, would exempt online travel agencies from paying room occupancy taxes and unfairly shift the burden to hotels.
There's more to worry about: The Department of Labor says it plans to step-up its audits of the hospitality industry starting next month as it seeks to find businesses violating labors laws related to minimum wage, overtime pay and immigration documentation.
The hotel industry needs to celebrate its successes while keeping a constant vigil for other challenges on the horizon.