The Hotel Business Hits a Pothole

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My guess is most of you are believers in small government and lower taxes. There's a lot of sentiment in the U.S., as is being played out in the national election cycle, against raising taxes to fund government functions many deem unnecessary. Getting lost in this widespread mood of austerity is a major function of government that, if not addressed, could have major negative effects on the hotel industry and perhaps your business.

As colorful Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says, the nation is “one big pothole.” Put another way, the nation's roads, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure are slowly, but surely falling apart, and there's little appetite among members of Congress to raise the funds to turn the tide before the nation's road system resembles the one in Nicaragua (I've been there, and believe me we don't want that country's roads.) Repairs and updates to the national infrastructure have traditionally been funded through an 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline. As people drive less and drive more fuel-efficient cars, these revenues are falling and, as mentioned previously, hardly anyone in Washington seems prepared to increase that tariff. The last major transportation bill passed Congress seven years ago and since then, it's only been a series of stopgap measures that have continued to sustain the Highway Trust Fund. And given that it's a presidential election year, no omnibus legislation likely will pass until the new President and Congress take office.

No matter your political affiliation or how you weigh in on the guns versus butter debate, you as an executive in the hotel industry need to make sure the candidates you support have a clear vision on how to repair and improve our transportation system. One study of the problem says the country needs to spend $225 billion annually for the next 50 years to improve and maintain the transportation infrastructure. Yet, legislation languishing in the Senate to address the problem only calls for expenditures of $109 billion over two years.

No hotel can survive if guests can't get to the property. As there is increasing fear about the safety of roads, tunnels and bridges (remember the bridge collapse on I-35 in Minneapolis in 2007?), an increasing number of families will be less inclined to take that 10-day automobile vacation each summer. Or, if lawmakers decide the answer is more toll roads and higher charges on existing ones, other travelers will forgo car trips or find other ways to conserve their vacation dollars.

Transportation should be a national priority, but for the tourism business it must be near the top of the list of priorities.

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