Just as I’m about to sit down with Ivanka Trump last week at the Trump National Doral Miami, presently undergoing a $250 million renovation, a foreman and two construction workers walk into the sparkly new ballroom. They’ve come to ask Ms. Trump for her sign-off on a column somewhere that needs to be moved. Trump looks over the paperwork like a seasoned contractor, acknowledges the work that’s required, and then pirouettes perfectly around on her six-inch heels with a beaming smile to resume our interview.
Trump is fiercely well poised and well spoken. She is a hands-on leader in the design and development of new Trump-branded properties, bringing a certain touch of sophisticated feminine levity to the Trump Hotel Collection from Toronto to Panama to Trump Vancouver presently under construction. They’re designed in stark contrast to the slightly tacky, overcompensating Wall Street Master of the Universe vibe at earlier Trump properties.
A couple years ago during a pre-opening tour through the Trump International Hotel Toronto, the GM pointed out the 500,000 pieces of tile used to make a mosaic in the port cochere. In the lobby, the blush-colored Asian and Italian onyx slabs are trimmed with “Negro Absoluto” granite, an inky black material without the typical granite grain. Together, he said, they represented Ms. Trump’s “champagne and caviar” color palette. Behind the lobby desk, a 13,000-pound Swarovski crystal sculpture imported from the Czech Republic is designed like a cherry blossom.
Trump Toronto was just announced as one of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Hotels worldwide for 2014.
Last week, the purpose of the Doral Miami event was a ribbon cutting of the new Gary Player Villa block of rooms and suites, re-draped in Coralina stone, with the Trump family and Gary Player himself in attendance.
Ivanka Trump is filling in the mid-century Miami Modernist lines with a classic ivory, champagne and caramel color scheme, which plays well off the South Florida light and thick tropical foliage throughout the property. Vintage black and white photos of Gary Player at the British Open provide an additional layer of storyline to the reimagined Mad Men-era rooms and foyer.
Listening to Trump senior and his daughter talk about their new resort, you soon understand how hands-on they are across all levels of design at the company’s branded hotels. You also get the sense they’re having a lot of fun doing it, compounded by the fact that the Trump Collection scooped up Doral for a steal at $150 million in 2011, after Morgan Stanley paid over $500 million in 2007.
As reported in Forbes, Millennial magnate Ms. Trump was the primary architect of that deal. Skift sat down with Ivanka following the ribbon cutting ceremony to speak specifically about hotel design and her role in the Trump empire.
Skift: What does the Trump hospitality brand stand for, and what is your role within it?
Ivanka Trump: We’re a family business. We wholly own our hotel platform, our hotel management company, and we’re actually a great believer in real estate as well. Very few hotel operators actually own their assets. And most of the great hotel companies actually started as family businesses, and they’ve long ago evolved out of that into large public companies. So it’s actually interesting that we are a family business. There are very few like us who are left in this space.
My role spans from acquisition to financing new projects through construction, and obviously design, and then on through operations. That’s just sort of how we roll as a family. We’re involved in everything, we’re incredibly involved in the details. One of the fun things for us, because we are owners as well as developers, and we oversee every part of the process from concept through execution through operations, is we can really create what we want.
Skift: While other hotel groups are divesting properties in an asset-light strategy, you seem to relish the role of ownership. Can you talk more about the business benefits? [Editor’s Note: While the Trump Collection does have a majority equity stake in properties like Doral, the company also participates in straight management contracts and licensing agreements for use of the brand name by local developers.]
Ivanka Trump: You know, most of the hotel companies hand a giant book of their brand standards over to a third party and they say, “Do this.” And their role is really about policing the process, as opposed to adding value to it. Whereas for us, we love it. We get involved in everything. Even my father hand selecting every photograph that goes in the new Gary Player Villa. It’s really a thing of a passion from the outset, and I think it really makes a difference.
You mentioned that you’ve been to the Toronto hotel. I think it’s a great example actually of how everything we do is highly contextual. And because we’re developers we can do that. A lot of the large hotel companies tend to be very formulaic, because they’re not doing it themselves so it’s tough to control the process. For us we really like to embrace the environment we’re in. So we’ll have a hotel in SoHo that’s extremely luxurious but young and cool and very sexy. The hotel in Toronto is sleek and sophisticated, and here it’s grand, but everything is incredibly unique and appropriate to its environment with the constant theme of super luxury.
Skift: What is your personal design vision?
Ivanka Trump: My design vision depends on the project. I mean, one of the nice things being involved in hotel developments all over the world is you’re constantly reinventing everything, and you’re constantly pushing yourself. So it’s very fun because I get to work with some of the most talented designers and architects on the planet, and each of them brings amazing ideas to the table. But really every property is different. We want it to be like that.
Toronto has very strong Art Deco influences and that’s something that I’ve always loved. Some of the greatest architecture in the world comes from the Art Deco period. My fine jewelry collection very much evokes that, and that was something very much in my mind when I was thinking about Toronto.
First and foremost, you have to create an environment that people feel at home in. And truly that is one of the hallmarks of our brand because we came from being condominium developers, and building people’s homes and residences. So we bring that to our hotel transient guests. You really want them to feel at home, except elevated.
Skift: To what do you attribute your personal success in hotel design?
Ivanka Trump: One of the things that I give a huge amount of credit to my father is, and one of the reason’s he’s been so successful in the development space at the super high end, is he always has his finger on the pulse of what the luxury customer wants. And that’s not a static thing, it changes all the time. He always recognizes it. And he’s not trendy or fad focused, which is a dangerous thing to be in the long term in real estate because you end up doing things that two years later look tired. So there’s a timeless appeal to everything we do.
People will add kitschy elements that will be stylish for about five minutes, and then they’re making a place look dated. We tend toward classic. With that said, we have some very ultra modern properties but we still use rich materials. And I think that’s part of the difference. You look at Trump Soho and it’s very youthful, it’s very modern. It’s very cutting edge and sexy, but it’s very refined and it’s very expensive looking. And that’s important to us, but it’s sometimes hard to accomplish both of those things. Vancouver [opening 2016] will be another example of that.
Skift: Does the topic of Millennial travel trends come up in your design strategy sessions?
Ivanka Trump: Well, I am a Millennial, and my younger brother is a Millennial, so we spend a lot of time thinking about what we want, and talking to our peers. I’m at the older end of that spectrum. But yes, I think Millennials are very experiential and that’s what they really put a premium on, because at some point you can’t build a higher ceiling. You can’t use more luxurious materials, you know? So I think for the next generation of traveler, it’s about customization and about creating experiences.
Obviously social media is changing the world in terms of how we communicate, and Millennials first and foremost are influenced not by advertisers but by their friends. So ensuring you create that great, highly customized experience is important, and that you get people talking about it and sharing it with each other.
Skift: How do you create that experience and get people talking?
Ivanka Trump: When we were designing Toronto I would post renderings of, say, the lobby on my social media channels, and I would ask people what their opinion was. It was great! I mean, you get amazing feedback. Also, it’s engaging our future guests in the design process. So that’s a fun and clever way to talk about design with our guests, and that’s something I love to do.
Greg Oates covers hospitality/tourism development and travel brand media. He’s toured over 1,000 hotels in 50+ countries.