Westchester Hotel Association Travels to Albany To Lobby Lawmakers on Key Industry Issues

John Jordan | June 2018

The members of the Westchester Hotel Association Board of Directors are from left, standing, Kevin Johnson, Antonio Santoiemma and Sean Meade. Seated, Dena McConnell.

WHITE PLAINS—After electing new leadership earlier this year, a reconstituted and perhaps reinvigorated Westchester Hotel Association traveled to Albany in May on its first “Hotel Lobby Day” with state lawmakers.

Joined by the Business Council of Westchester, the Westchester Hotel Association met with key state officials to voice their opposition on proposed legislation that the group believes would negatively impact Westchester’s hotel industry and the county’s economy as a whole. Among the organization’s legislative priorities was opposition to three bills that would extend onerous hotel room occupancy taxes in the cities of New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers.

The newly elected president of the Westchester Hotel Association is Sean Meade, general manager of the 130-key Cambria Suites White Plains-Downtown, who succeeded longtime WHA President Dan Conte. The former general manager of the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown served as WHA President since 2010.

The Westchester Hotel Association boasts 40 member hotels and motels. Meade told Real Estate In-Depth that although the hotel industry in Westchester is performing well, the industry is losing business room bookings, as well as and meeting and conference business due to high costs associated with the hotel occupancy taxes that are in place.

Other members of the WHA Board of Directors include: Vice President Kevin Johnson, general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton Tarrytown; Secretary Dena McConnell, director of revenue services of Hilton Westchester and Treasurer Antonio Santoiemma, general manager, Courtyard Marriott Rye.

“Hotels in the area are doing well,” he said. “However, there are groups and businesses that seem to be leaving Westchester County and going to other areas. For example, they are going over the bridge to Rockland County or are entertaining going to Fairfield County (CT) hotels.”

He noted that in addition to the hotel occupancy taxes imposed in White Plains, New Rochelle and Yonkers and elsewhere, the Town of Mount Pleasant is considering imposing such a tax even though it currently does not have a hotel or motel within its borders, he noted.

John Ravitz, vice president and chief operating officer of the Business Council of Westchester, noted that there are currently 14 different municipalities in Westchester that have hotel occupancy tax legislation on their books.

“Our concern is that you have an industry that continues to grow. You have an industry that continues to create jobs and revenue for the local municipalities,” Ravitz said. “Why are we putting all these burdens on their shoulders with these occupancy tax bills.”

In 2016, members of the WHA generated more than $416 million of the overall $1.8-billion travel and tourism industry to the Westchester County economy, Meade related.

The latest figures from Smith Travel Research indicated that the hotel room demand in Westchester rose 3.5% last year, but the average daily room rate declined 2% to $144. This was due in part to a 3% increase in the number of rooms in the market. The hotel occupancy rate in Westchester was flat from a year earlier at 70%. The WHA predicts that further increases in supply will continue to challenge the market this year. It expects a nearly 2% increase in room night demand and a .5% decline in the hotel occupancy rate in 2018.

“As Westchester maintains awareness and demand, challenges continue with the growing increase in supply which is worrisome for existing hotels. In 2017 occupancy, average rates, and revenue per available room were all down from 2016. The trend looks to continue into 2018,” Meade said.

The Westchester Hotel Association has been keenly involved in advancing the education of its member employees as well as community involvement. However, it is only recently that the WHA has been engaged in legislative advocacy for the industry.

Meade said that the WHA is partnering with the Business Council of Westchester on this relatively new initiative and expects to stage Lobby Day events in Albany each year.

The entire leadership team of the Westchester Hotel Association attended its first Albany Lobby Day. The WHA contingent was led by Meade and Westchester County’s Director of Tourism and Film Natasha Caputo. The group began the day meeting with New York State Senator Terrence Murphy, chair of the Senate Committee on Investigations & Government Operations, where all hotel occupancy bills must pass.

The day also included a session with the Westchester Assembly Delegation, hosted by Assembly Member J. Gary Pretlow; as well as a meeting with Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and members of the Westchester Senate Delegation. Tanisha Edwards, assistant counsel to the governor for taxation and financial services, also hosted a meeting with the group.

The BCW and Westchester Hotel Association submitted Memos of Opposition in regards to the following:

• A bill that would require employers of retail, food service or cleaning employees to give their employees seven days notice of their work schedule and a month’s notice of the minimum hours of work they will be assigned.

• A bill that would require every hotel, motel or inn to offer condoms for sale in their registration offices to registered guests.

• A bill that would extend the hotel occupancy tax in the City of White Plains for three years, expiring on Dec. 31, 2021.

• A bill that would extend the hotel occupancy tax in the City of Yonkers for three years, expiring on Sept. 1, 2021.

• A bill that would extend the hotel occupancy tax in the City of New Rochelle for three years, expiring on Sept. 1, 2021.

• A bill that would require that every keeper of a lodging facility post in plain view and in a conspicuous place and manner in the public rest rooms, and if practicable, in the individual guest rooms and near the public entrance or other conspicuous place in plain sight of the guests and employees, a notice that would include the national human trafficking hotline telephone number. The bill also requires that the Internet reservation website for lodging facilities display, if practicable, the same notice.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth