Women in Public Affairs to Know: Erica Gordon

by McGuireWoods Consulting
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This interview is the first in a series of “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative.

Erica Gordon is Vice President of Government Affairs at Hilton, a global hospitality brand recognized around the world. She oversees government affairs for the Americas for Hilton, and also manages Hilton’s political action committee. With 4,800 properties in the Americas and another 1,600 in the regional pipeline, Erica interfaces with government officials to advocate for top policy priorities and navigate any geopolitical issues that may arise as Hilton continues to grow its global footprint.

The interview below was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s state government relations team.

Q: There are many young women who are thinking about a career in politics or public affairs. Can you talk about the steps you took to get your first job in politics?

Erica Gordon: My first job in politics was also my first job out of college. I worked for the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and having no legislative experience or political connections of any kind, I knew I would have to hustle to get that job and succeed on Capitol Hill. It was an entry level position, but it afforded me a front row seat to learn about legislating and lawmaking in Washington, DC.

Working on the Hill was a great political education for me – it led me to a lobbying firm, a presidential campaign, a political grassroots organization and then ultimately to a career in hospitality. My diverse experiences have really prepared me along the way for my current role. The hospitality industry is so much more complex than one would imagine. I’ve been at Hilton for over six years now. I’m still learning every day and am constantly presented with new and interesting challenges. I would say that my time working in policy and politics really taught me how to master complex issues, work with subject matter experts to understand all sides of a problem, and then distill it down into a clear and relatable message for a particular audience. That’s what I do every day at Hilton – make sure that we’re speaking in a clear, unified voice on our company’s top policy priorities.

Q: Your statement about hustling really caught my attention.  Why did you want to get into politics and how did you know you needed to hustle to do it?

EG: Politics has always been an interest of mine. I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, and though I had no real connection to the political process, it was always something that fascinated me and that I observed from a distance. I consider myself a go-getter by nature. I knew that no one was going to open those doors for me and it was something that I had to do myself. Ultimately, I realized that hard work, networking, showing up, sending out resumes and knocking on doors was the way I was going to get my foot in the door on Capitol Hill.

Q: You’ve talked about the various stakeholders you’ve worked with and how you’ve learned to simplify complex issues for a wide audience.  First, how have you learned to listen, both for what’s being said, and more importantly, for what’s not being said, and secondly, how do you sift through all the information and distill it down to something that’s easy to understand?

EG: I’m listening and learning every day. What has served me well is having a deep understanding of the business. Knowing the industry you’re in and where the business is headed really helps you cut through a lot of the noise and prioritize issues. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years really focusing on understanding the hospitality industry. As a lobbyist, I’m constantly working across multiple functions and geographic regions to understand the perspectives of my internal business partners, our hotel owners and our guests. These groups help inform my advocacy strategy on a day-to-day basis. My best advice is to actually spend time listening to those who don’t agree with your position. It is really important to speak to your internal stakeholders and your business partners to know what you’re advocating for, but understanding the opposing point of view is empowering. It challenges your thought process, helps sharpen your arguments and ultimately makes you a better advocate for your issues.

Q: What would you describe as the top three policy issues facing your industry right now?

EG: The rise of illegal hotels is certainly something we’ve been watching. Our industry is competitive, dynamic and growing. Last year, Hilton added about one hotel a day to its network to welcome an increasing number of travelers. Home-sharing has been around for decades, but what we’ve seen in cities across the country is that unregulated commercial operators are taking advantage of short-term rental platforms, and run what are essentially illegal hotels without any public health or safety rules or concern for local neighborhoods. Communities and private property owners around the country are rightly responding. At Hilton, we are continually looking for new ways to address the changing preferences of travelers, and we take pride in offering consistent, safe and secure accommodations as the starting point for exceptional hospitality.

Online consumer deception is another area of focus. With 500 hotel bookings happening online every minute, it is more important than ever that consumers pay close attention when they are booking their reservations online. A lot of consumers shop with online travel agencies and third-party sites because they think that they are getting the best deal. But consumers are increasingly being misled into making hotel reservations through fraudulent websites, or are directed to fraudulent call centers operated by third party affiliates, giving the false appearance of being the hotel. At Hilton, it’s a priority to make deep connections with our guests and we are working hard to enhance those direct relationships at every touch point.

Finally, the growth of global travel and inbound international travel to the U.S. has been critical to the success of our business. We’re living in what we call the “Golden Age of Travel.” People are traveling in record numbers and crossing borders more than ever before and they are spending a lot of money to do so, which is great for our industry and the communities that we serve around the world. There’s been a 44% increase in global travel since 2010. International visitors to the U.S. directly contribute to our industry supporting 1.2 million U.S. jobs. In order to get even more international travelers here to fuel more hiring, we have been advocating for Brand USA, the country’s international destination marketing program. The program is funded by visa fees from inbound visitors, and matched by private sector dollars with no cost to the American taxpayer. We are working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to reinstate funding for Brand USA and to build support for policies that increase safe and secure inbound travel to the United States.

Q: Of course, I have to ask, since you’re in the hospitality and travel business –what are your top three travel destinations?

EG: It’s really hard to pick! This past year I've done a lot of travel for both work and pleasure and had the opportunity to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, Hilton Buenos Aires and Hampton Inn & Suites Napa. All were great properties and fantastic destinations that I had never been to before. Hilton has 15 brands positioned across more than 5,500 properties in 109 countries, so I have a very long travel bucket list!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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