AHLA's Campaign to Share the Stories of Hotels During COVID-19

April 8, 2020

Challenge: Sharing the Human Impact of the Economic Distress Caused by Coronavirus

The hotel industry was hit by the impacts of the coronavirus early and often. Even before social distancing began at scale, conferences were canceled and business travel cut back based on government precautionary recommendations.

As Congress considered legislation to begin to alleviate some of the economic burden caused by the outbreak, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) had numerous goals it wanted to achieve. First and foremost was supporting the people who work at each of the hotels the association represents. AHLA needed to make sure the voices of its members were heard.

“For our industry, the economic toll has been devastating but the human toll, the human impact has been equally as devastating,” said Chris Burgoyne, Vice President of Government and Political Affairs at AHLA. “Looking at this campaign, our first focus was what can we do to help our employees and what can we do to support our employees, because we’re an industry of people and people helping people. That was always goal number one, two, and three for our members.”

Solution: Mobilizing Hoteliers to Share their Stories with Congress

When the government affairs team met with lawmakers on the stimulus package, they wanted policymakers to already be familiar with the immense challenges their constituents employed by the hotel industry were facing.

“[The goal] was telling our story so that when we did have the concrete legislative ask people would say, ‘Yes — we’ve heard from you, we’ve heard from your people, we’ve heard from our district, we’ve heard from people who have been engaged,’” Burgoyne said.

Key to AHLA’s campaign was sharing the right message at the right time and from the right messenger. This was true both in messages from AHLA to its members to drive action and from AHLA to Congress.

First, the association needed to drive advocates to take action by meeting advocates wherever they were with a multi-channel outreach strategy. AHLA used Quorum Outbox to send emails to their advocate list coming from the CEO of the association. The team also had every one of their employees add the campaign link to their email signature so that whenever someone was sending an email externally, they could draw attention to the campaign. Using Quorum’s texting capabilities, AHLA set it up so advocates could text ‘ACT’ to a phone number and have the campaign sent to their phones to take action via mobile. Finally, the AHLA team reached out to each hotel brand’s executives to ask them to reach out personally to their employees to take action.

“Everyone gets a lot of emails, everyone gets a lot of things asked of them,” Burgoyne said. “One person can make the ask and it goes into the trash bucket, the other person makes an ask and they read it, and then when the third person who has a relationship with them makes the ask, people actually take action.”

The right message at the right time was also true of engagement with Congress. The first phase of messaging came when legislation was in the works, but the details of the bill remained unknown. This was a critical time for advocates to share their personal stories to describe why the hotel and tourism industries should be a major focus of relief.

Then, when the text of the bill came out, AHLA turned to its lobbyists to share the message of the specifics of what would benefit their industry. As soon as the CARES Act passed, AHLA transitioned its efforts to the implementation of the legislation and making sure that hotels were effectively supported by making sure that franchises qualified as small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Act. To do this, AHLA ran a campaign to have members once again share their stories of how PPP would affect them and why they should qualify.

Impact: “We Know Your Story”

Our goal with this whole campaign was to capture our members’ voices and have them be heard,” Burgoyne said. “I give a big salute to our entire team because we were successful with that. Thirty thousand people have had their voices heard through 100,000 letters

When AHLA’s government affairs team had meetings with key stakeholders in Congress to make their case for the hotel industry, each of those stakeholders had already heard from dozens if not hundreds of constituents sharing their stories about the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus.

“We had a meeting at the White House, we had calls with the Speaker, calls with the Majority Leader in the Senate, and with the Minority Leader in the Senate, and the key message that every elected official that our executives talked to said was, ‘We’ve heard from the hotel industry,’” Burgoyne said. “‘We know your story, we’ve seen the impact in our district, I’ve talked to folks, I’ve gotten letters, I’ve seen it on social media.’”

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