Trump Inc. Had a Rough Year, but His D.C. Hotel Is Killing It
Other Trump properties are pulling down the president’s name. But near the White House, it’s as good as gold.
For a host of Trump-branded properties, 2017 brought...hiccups.
Workers removed the “TRUMP” sign from the hotel formerly known as TRUMP SOHO last week in the dark of night. The move came six months after the hotel formerly known as Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto reportedly paid the Trump Organization upwards of $6 million to get out of their contract and rebrand as The Adelaide.
Just last month, the AP reported that the owners of the Trump International Hotel in Panama City are trying to de-brand themselves of Trump.
When Trump Tower Vancouver opened in February, so many protesters showed up that city buses had to be re-routed, according to CTV News. Greenpeace protesters were charged with causing thousands of dollars of damage at the Trump Tower in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
When Trump stopped in Hawaii on his way to his Asia trip, protesters marched to Trump Waikiki chanting, “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA.”
But no Trump property drew as much ire as the instantly-iconic Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., situated a block from the Justice Department’s headquarters and halfway between the White House and the Capitol Building. Over the year, protesters regularly amassed in front of the building, causing snarled traffic and sometimes drawing jeers from people in the building.
That didn’t stop the president and his advisors from making frequent visits to the hotel, and it didn’t stop conservative groups from hosting numerous fundraisers and events there. Over the course of the year, the hotel’s sprawling, palatial lobby became the place to be seen for young Republicans, campaign alums, Trump-loving tourists, and general rubber-neckers. All this is despite prices that might make fiscal conservatives blanche; a small bottle of Evian water from room service runs $9, and chicken caesar salad clocks in at $30.
And while the hotel industry nationally saw stagnant room rates—that’s according to analysis from the hospitality research firm STR—Trump Washington hiked its rates in the months after the Inauguration, per The Wall Street Journal, which generated significantly more revenue than the hotel had predicted. Bjorn Hanson, a professor focused on tourism and hospitality at New York University, told The Daily Beast that luxury hotels typically operate at a cash flow loss in their first two years doing business. But the opposite was the case for Trump Hotel in Washington.
The hotel initially expected to lose $2.1 million in the first four months of 2017. Instead, according to the Washington Post, it raked in $1.97 million in profits.
Patricia Tang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said the team there is happy with its success this year.
“We are very pleased with the performance of the hotel in its first full year of operation, not just financially but also with regards to the recognition of the high service standards achieved by our associates as indicated in the reviews and rankings on TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com,” she told The Daily Beast. “We are looking forward to an even more successful 2018.”
President Trump himself appears to be interested as well. Since his inauguration, he has maintained that he isn’t involved in the management of his businesses. But an email from the director of revenue management for the Trump Hotel in Washington, which The Daily Beast reviewed, indicates that may not be the case.
Jeng Chi Hung, who holds that position, sent that email to an acquaintance on Sept. 12 of this year. The email opens with a few pleasantries. Then, Hung writes that he met with Trump, and that the president asked him specific questions about banquet revenues, demographics, and how his presidency impacted the business.
The email says this:
The company is interesting to work for being under the Trump umbrella. DJT is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he's definitely still involved... so it's interesting and unique in that way. I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses. So, he seems self aware about things, at least more than he lets on. I am far left leaning politically, so working here has been somewhat of a challenge for me. But, it's all business.
Hung’s email did not say when he met with Trump. The president dined at Trump Hotel in Washington on July 29 of this year, along with Gen. John Kelly, Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, according to ABC News. That meal came about six weeks before Hung sent his email about meeting with Trump, though it’s unclear if it coincided with that meeting.
Reached by phone, Hung told The Daily Beast, “I can’t comment on that.”
Mickael Damelincourt, the managing director of the hotel, told The Daliy Beast that Hung told him the email was a lie.
“This is total nonsense,” Damelincourt said. “Upon review of the email referenced in your inquiry, we have met with the individual and he has confirmed that he made these comments up in an effort to enhance his sense of importance to a former employer. In fact, this individual confirmed to me today that he has never met the President nor did any conversation ever take place. We are continuing to investigate this matter internally.”
The president has long maintained that he has separated himself from his many business interests.
“What I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” he told reporters at a Trump Tower press conference shortly before his inauguration. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Despite that, Trump has spent a significant amount of his time as president visiting his own businesses. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a good-governance watchdog group, calculated that he has visited one of his properties –– including his golf club in Northern Virginia, his Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach, and his hotel in downtown Washington D.C. –– about one of every three days he’s been in office.
Jordan Libowitz, a CREW spokesperson, said the email raises serious concerns.
“This appears to confirm the worst fears about the Trump administration,” he said. “If this is true, it means the president, his family and his spokespeople lied repeatedly about his relationship with his business.”
“Presidents for decades have divested their assets so as to avoid even the appearance of them worrying about their business interests,” he added. “With Trump, it’s becoming hard to tell which of his jobs is his top priority.”
The opulent lobby of the Trump hotel in Washington has become a de facto clubhouse for so-called Deplorables. Internet-famous Trump supporters like Mike Cernovich, Roger Stone, and Lucian Wintrich have all made appearances there.
On Oct. 27, the hotel was the site of a surprise birthday dinner for Ivanka Trump that Jared Kushner, Melania Trump, and the president himself all attended. It was the president’s third time dining at the hotel in October, according to the log CREW keeps. A host of lobbying groups looking to influence the Trump administration have also had events there, and foreign diplomats also frequent the hotel.
Two other Trump properties have also drawn major national prominence over the first year of his presidency: Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., and the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The president has been unabashed about his affection for what he’s dubbed “the Winter White House,” which reportedly doubled its membership dues after the election. After signing a controversial tax overhaul, he announced to diners there that they “just got richer,” according to CBS News. And while transparency advocates have been suing the Secret Service for access to the club’s visitor logs, the administration has refused to budge. And when the president ordered a missile strike on an airfield in Syria, his billionaire commerce secretary Wilbur Ross described the display as “after-dinner entertainment.”
The president has yet to order a major military strike from his golf course in New Jersey, which has its own helipad. But he hasn’t let his status as Commander in Chief slow down his gold game. And, as The Daily Beast reported, the Secret Service agents who accompany his frequent trips to the club are trying to be friendlier to its members. And he interviewed billionaire Betsy DeVos there before nominating her to be his education secretary. McClatchy reported that Trump personally pockets the membership fees and annual dues Bedminster’s members pay.
These properties all defined the first year of Trump’s presidency. And his presidency, in turn, defined them. Hanson, the NYU professor, said the hotel’s lucrative first year is probably due in large part to media attention –– but added that in the years to come, its success should be sustainable.
“Even the critics of the Washington property acknowledged that it actually turned out better than maybe expected –– one of the better of the Trump properties, if not among the best,” he said.