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Considering Donald Trump’s uneven legacy in hospitality, the Trump kids are reinventing the rapidly expanding hotel brand through a combination of design savvy, multi-generational appeal and Ivanka’s star power.
The Trump family empire is in aggressive growth mode these days with plans to expand from the present 12 hotels to 30 by 2020. There’s also a passing of the torch somewhat with the Trump children assuming greater roles in dad’s company.
Donald Trump, who turns 68 this summer, is expanding the Trump Golf collection and indulging his passion for European links play with the purchase of the Lodge at Doonbeg in Ireland last month. Doonbeg earned the top position for European hotels in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards last year.
Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric Trump, meanwhile, are overseeing operations of the Trump Hotel Collection and its expansion into Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro and Washington D.C., all scheduled to open in 2016, following this month’s unveiling of the Trump National Doral Miami.
During recent press events in Miami, Trump Sr. kicked off the proceedings with some light banter about his golf game, the importance of family, and his trademark “It’s going to be very special” overview of Doral.
The three children handled the heavy lifting discussing the Trump acquisition pipeline, development, financing and marketing.
Their business styles couldn’t be more different. Dad likes to create a stir in the press, even relishing in it. True to form, there are already environmental tangles with his proposed renovation of Doonbeg’s golf course surrounding the protection of a tiny indigenous snail. As is custom, Mr. Trump is not shying away from speaking his mind publicly, and as is also custom, the local press is soaking it up.
On the hotel side, Ivanka is becoming the de facto face of the brand with a combination of brains, design savvy, and an engaging, down-to-earth demeanor. Whereas dad is highly polarizing at times with his right-wing extremism and made for reality TV-persona, the poised Ivanka is all kinds of perfect to wave the Trump flag in the 21st century. She is the globe-hopping, culturally-sensitive Millennial magnate that so many others in her age group aspire to be.
The four present hotel projects provide a window into the direction of the family business moving forward. Ireland, Vancouver, and Rio are all extending the Trump brand’s reach into major gateway markets. In the nation’s capital, the Trump International Hotel, Old Post Office is the company’s first historic adaptive reuse project.
“The Old Post Office development is very exciting,” says Lisa A. Potts, senior VP of sales/marketing at Trump Hotel Collection. “After years, the Trump Hotel Collection was selected by the U.S. General Services Administration to redevelop this. We were up against everyone for this project.”
In terms of market segments, 83% of Trump’s customer base falls between the ages of 35 to 66, split between 46% business and 54% leisure. We checked in with Potts to find out more about the brand’s evolution.
Skift: What are some of the Trump Hotel Collection’s most salient brand pillars?
Lisa A. Potts: Trump Hotel Collection was launched in 2007 and the vision of the brand was to be the next generation of luxury hospitality to be led by the next generation of Trumps. And part of that vision was to really elevate the top tier travel experience with a level of customized service that’s unmatched in the market today.
From the company’s brand pillars standpoint, Trump means quality, and I think no one can contest that. We are developers too. Obviously the roots of the family are in real estate so there’s a real focus not to take any shortcuts, from the materials, the finishes and throughout the hotel.
I think also very critical is location. We look for an address that will really speak to the traveler that is looking for that luxury experience. It needs to be in many cases a landmark address or something that will ensure high visibility, and also from a business perspective, a place where we can drive strong occupancy and be the market leader.
So an example might be the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, which is situated in about the most perfect location for both business and leisure travelers, right on the Chicago River with incredible views of Lake Michigan and the architectural details of the surrounding buildings.
Skift: There seems to be a major design shift at Trump under Ivanka’s direction.
Potts: Design aesthetic is really key. I think this is a very important part of the brand and who we are. If you step into our guest rooms or lobbies of our hotels, you immediately get a very residential feel. And I think Ivanka, who’s directly involved with our designers and architects in selecting the best finishes and furnishings, she has found a way to strike that balance between comforts of home and a luxury hotel experience.
Because our guests really do want that luxury when they’re here, but they also want to feel comfortable. So I think it’s a very unique niche in the luxury tier, and we get there a lot through the design.
Skift: How does Trump Hotel Collection resonate with Millennials?
Potts: Ivanka has three million followers so we have a great opportunity to leverage the family through social media in helping us communicate new brand initiatives relevant to all of our guests. So there’s an enormous focus on social media. For instance we ask guests to share photos and videos and be part of conversations through Trump-hosted Twitter chats with designated Trump hashtags.
We see a very strong connection between the Trump Hotel Collection brand and that younger traveler who’s seeking a luxury travel experience now. I would chalk that up largely to the connection with the family itself. So really it’s primarily the Trump children that are in the day-in/day-out oversight of the hotel collection. They’re very entrepreneurial, they’re hard working, they have very high standards. And they have a brand that tends to be very aspirational, something to strive for.
For people growing in their career and arriving at a point where they now want a luxury travel experience, they look at that and they can truly connect. And they’re inspired by that.
Skift: What is the Trump strategy for catering to a wide cross section of age demographics?
Potts: Interestingly, our age demographics are very broad because the brand is not a trendy brand. It’s not intended to be. It’s intended to be more of a timeless brand, and one that will appeal to multiple generations. We want this brand to be something people want to stay at when they first start experiencing luxury, and throughout their lives with their families as their lives evolve.
I think that’s really critical when we think about design aesthetic, location, and how we position the brand. We have to be very careful with that. The Trump family expects these hotels to be in the family for generations to come.
Skift: Anything new in terms of tech or social media?
Potts: Our guests spend a lot of time on our site. We have all that data, we see how they explore our site through different devices. We also see that a high volume of those folks end up calling us anyway to make their reservation. I think that’s part of the luxury sector, especially if someone is booking a suite for a week. They want to have a discussion with somebody just to make sure we know what they need.
We are in the process of evaluating some new slick technology we’re testing in some of the hotels in terms of tech communications, where we can engage with our guests during their stay and post/prior. We expect that to be implemented later in the summer.
I think you will also see more education platforms. One of the initiatives I’m working on personally is an educational platform for the industry who would like to engage with us on a different level, to stay educated on the brand. We want to make sure there’s newsworthy content on the site relevant to their business.
Skift: How is your loyalty program evolving?
Potts: The Trump Card program is now starting to mature, I would say. It’s been established for a couple years, and the unique part of our program is, it’s not intended to compete with the larger hotel companies in terms of heavy points, heavy airline miles-type programs.
This is intended to build loyalty but initially it begins with, we want to personalize your experience so we understand what you need. We want to gather this interesting information about you that matters to you, and then we need to deliver on that so that you want to stay at the next Trump hotel opportunity that you can in another city.
And by they way, you do get free rooms and upgrades based on the number of times you stay with us. But it’s not intended to build loyalty through pushing out a lot of points at people. At it’s core, it is a personalized privilege that is backed up by our Trump Attaché team. That doesn’t exist in other brands. It is a team fully dedicated to that understanding of those personal preferences of our guests and delivering on that.
We have been able to weave in some of our other programs like our Trump Wellness program, which includes healthy in-room and restaurant dining options that address any dietary restrictions. So that now is part of the profile. As we add new initiatives that we think can be customized, we’ll add those too through Trump Card.
Skift: What’s new on the meetings front?
Potts: Our business travel segment is critical and very robust, but I think it goes back to where we situate our hotels. We do like to have a lot of demand generators in our backyard so we can appeal to the business traveler. It’s a vital part of our business, and business meetings are a crucial part of our success as well.
But I think beyond that, in terms of trends, clients are really looking for unique spaces to meet, they need places to break away and get a fresh perspective. What we think about when we develop new properties is: do we have some unique spaces for those clients who need the opportunity to step away from the traditional function room? Places with natural light, unique gathering spots that are beautiful in their design and facilitate additional networking to inspire new brainstorming ideas.
Outdoor spaces are tremendously popular. If you look at Doral, the verandas, terraces, gardens, courtyards, they’re amazing and they’re very high in demand. Each hotel has to have great spaces for those one-on-one, ad hoc, let’s grab a cup of coffee type meetings. Sometimes those are the most productive, and if you don’t have a place to go like that, it’s very frustrating. So we weave those also into those meetings.
Trump Express Meetings is something we launched a couple years ago. We’re in the process of relaunching it, kind of reinvigorating it. The idea behind Express Meetings was to launch a solution for short term, smaller groups—people that might be looking to economize a bit and they don’t have a lot of time to plan a meeting.
These are prepackaged meetings. The intent is to make it as easy as possible for the planner, so that we can execute on their behalf and deliver a tremendous experience. We’re enhancing that moving forward with some speedy contracting options as well, which we know is part of that entire process. We’ll be relaunching that in Q2 this year.