Trump Hotels Intensify Wooing Of Corporate, Group Markets

Donald Trump is never one to shy away from the media spotlight, but in recent weeks, he's been trying to share some of those figurative photons with his four-year-old Trump Hotel Collection.

Despite Trump's aborted presidential run last year and penchant for political commentary, the mogul mostly eschewed politics in his recent address to the Americas Lodging Investment Summit to focus on his luxury hotel collection, launched in October 2007. He limited political statements largely to a quick rebuke of President Obama's health care initiative, which he said would be "disastrous to the hotel industry" and would "bring profitable properties into a loss." Compared with statements by other general session speakers at this year's politically charged ALIS__fellow real estate magnate Sam Zell, for one, said Obama's reelection was the "single biggest risk" facing the hotel industry in terms of domestic policy__it was a fairly mild criticism.

Instead, Trump opened by saying he was happy to be talking about hotels instead of politics. "While political speeches are fun, I love this business," he said. To be sure, Trump's hotel business__actually run more directly by Trump's children Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr. than Trump himself__has been quite busy in recent weeks. The Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto opened Jan. 31, and this week, the company announced the U.S. General Services Administration had selected it to turn Washington's historic Old Post Office Pavilion into a hotel, besting a list of potential developers that included Hilton's Waldorf-Astoria Collection. Trump Hotels also launched a rewards program that includes meals prepared by private chefs and rounds of golf at Trump's courses among such typical offerings as free nights and room upgrades.

While the Trump Hotels portfolio currently stands at seven properties, Trump clearly aims to become a bigger player in the corporate travel space. Last year, for example, the company deployed Newmarket International technology to centralize sales and event management as part of an effort to boost group business. On a more anecdotal point, Trump Hotels recently has asked Business Travel News why it does not appear among the brands ranked in its annual Hotel Chain Survey. (They have not yet reached the necessary usage threshold among survey respondents.)

Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts caused Trump to cancel a planned interview with me at ALIS, though he did participate in a press conference.

During that press conference, Trump said he plans to grow his portfolio and is eyeing projects in several gateway cities around the world, particularly in China and Europe. He has no shortage of proposals, he said.

"We turn down many more projects than we accept, probably three for every one we take," Trump said. "We have a lot where somebody wants to come in and not do the kind of luxury [we usually do] and just use the name."

Trump also boasted that his name helps him clear hurdles other developers face in this period of slow supply growth. While even many established developers are having trouble finding financing, Trump said that "the banks want to give us money for any job we want to do." He also pointed to his track record of clearing difficult zoning hurdles, including getting clearance to build a luxury hotel and golf course on the north of Aberdeen, Scotland, despite backlash from some environmental experts who said it would disrupt the rare dune system on the coast.

Just don't expect a select-service or midprice Trump brand to ever be among the portfolio.

"I want to stay at the upper tier," Trump said. "I started in low-income housing, in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey, and we've gone to the highest tier, with apartments selling for $33 million, so I'm not looking to do a second tier. Other brands already do a very good job at that."