Your Chance to Make a Difference

As the presidential election race heats up, the hospitality industry is taking unprecedented steps to get its voice heard by both Barack Obama and John McCain and their parties. All too often in the past, those of us in the hospitality industry grumbled mostly to ourselves that our key concerns — primarily U.S. tourism policy (or lack thereof) — weren't seriously addressed by presidential candidates and virtually ignored once a new occupant took residence in the White House.

That's all changed this election cycle as the combined tourism business has a well-thought-out and potentially effective campaign underway to get the candidates to listen to its message, especially in two battleground cities — Orlando and Las Vegas — that also happen to be markets dominated by tourism.

The Travel Industry Association spent a reported $500,000 to execute a multi-media campaign during the Democratic and Republican conventions urging candidates to listen to and act upon industry concerns. The campaign centered on a series of three ads run in Orlando and Las Vegas newspapers before and during each convention. The first ad in Orlando, for example, was published the day before the Dems met in Denver and featured Mark McHugh, CEO of Gatorland, a central Florida tourist attraction. In it, McHugh asks Obama to address issues such as the deteriorating airline system and the need to mount a marketing campaign to promote the U.S. as a premier tourist destination.

The third in each series of ads were scheduled to run on the days the candidates gave their acceptance speeches and had a “report card” readers could rip out and use to grade the speeches. Hopefully, the ads and grading gimmick will be the starting point for the industry to press its agenda with the candidates.

TIA preceded the print ad campaign with in-depth polling of voter sentiment in the target cities. In both areas, the surveys found a virtual even split among voters' preferences for either McCain or Obama. Similarly, the local races for Congress were near dead heats in both markets. And since those polled overwhelmingly view tourism as a major factor in their local economies, the industry has the chance to tip the scales in its favor in both the presidential and Congressional contests.

While TIA's efforts in Orlando and Las Vegas are now over, it's mostly up to you, your employees and your professional friends, colleagues, partners and even your competitors to press our issues to local candidates and to the local arms of the national parties.

Whether you're the owner of a small business with one or two hotels or the CEO of a large hotel brand company, you have political clout, probably even more than you realize. Hotel general managers, as well as every property department head and line-level employees, can and should be heard.

It's not often (I've never seen it in 34 years of covering the hospitality business) that our industry — and that means you — gets the opportunity to make a difference in national policy. Today, we have that chance, so I urge you to act through your vote, your wallet and your influence.

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