By Dale J. Venturini, President & CEO, Rhode Island Hospitality Association
As I write this column, we are experiencing a government shutdown. We haven’t seen this type of situation in 17 years. While congress is at loggerheads over the new healthcare law, hundreds of thousands of employees are furloughed without pay and hundreds of national attractions including parks, monuments and museums are closed. While the early and immediate impact of the shutdown largely surrounds those folks who are forced home without a paycheck, there are longer-ranging consequences for the hospitality industry.
First, hotels that are near national attractions are most certainly facing room cancellations and a lack of booking revenue. I’ve been monitoring social media channels and have seen many comments from frustrated tourists who have come to some of our great national attractions only to be sidelined. With hotel cancellation policies ranging 24-48 hours out, the lodging industry is facing a huge financial loss not only from visiting tourists, but also from the tens of thousands of traveling government employees.
Restaurants are not immune either. When folks are furloughed and are not receiving a paycheck, they are less inclined to go out to dinner or make any plans to spend additional monies within the industry. From attractions, to restaurants to hotels, less disposable income means a certain hit across the board.
While this is not an anomaly – the U.S. government has shut down 17 times in the past without serious, long-ranging consequences, it does send a message to the rest of the word. Tourism from other countries will certainly slow as the world sees the U.S. undergoing turmoil and facing instability within its infrastructure. To other countries, this is certainly not an ideal time to travel to the U.S. for business or pleasure.
While hundreds of thousands of employees are sidelined due to the shutdown, a handful of necessary offices will remain open during this time including active-duty U.S. military members, the U.S. mail, aspects of Medicare and social security among others. One area not deemed necessary is the routine safety inspections of food. While our industry does a good job of policing itself, this necessary aspect of the government is going dark through the shutdown.
Running hand-in-hand with food safety is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are currently unable to offer assistance to state and local authorities in tracking unusual outbreaks, foodborne or other. To this end, I am imploring each person reading this column who handles food to make sure that you are following the letter of the law in how you handle and cook raw food items. The stakes are much higher now that there are not routine safety inspections on foods making their way to your places of business.
While I have seen countless emails from myriad businesses – hospitality and other – imploring the general public to contact their legislator and make their voices heard during this time, it brings up another point, one that I have made countless times in the past. Each one of us is an advocate of our industry. We have an obligation to pick up the slack where our government falls short and ensure that we do our best for our industry. We are a community with a common goal and as such, we all share in the risk and rewards that our industry offers.
My call to action for you is to take this shutdown as an example, use it to spur action and involvement in your local industry’s government affairs committee. We can all sit back and blame congress for leading us to this place, or we can act and decide to have an active role in doing what’s best for not only the hospitality industry, but our country as well. I hope you choose to make a difference.
A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Ms. Venturini is considered by many, to be the voice of the industry in the State of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the State, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Ms. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.