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Throughout his run in office, Donald Trump has become notorious for making choices that are unprecedented in the recent history of the United States presidency, such as his ongoing refusal to release his tax returns, or his unwillingness to cooperate with federal subpoenas.
Now, Trump is suggesting his own golf resort in Miami, The Trump National Doral, as the site for the next Group of Seven (G7) Summit in 2020. This proposal is raising concerns about the legality and ethics of this choice, as critics question whether it technically counts as him profiting off the presidency by promoting his declining property to a global audience. Additionally, meeting planners have brought the venue itself under scrutiny, with mixed feelings over whether or not the resort is suitable for an event of this caliber.
“Doral has definitely been damaged by having the Trump name on it since the election,” said David Bruce, executive director of the Alliance of Independent Meeting Professionals, a corporate association which aims to improve the meetings industry as a whole. “In that way, it certainly helps the property moving forward.”
The damage Doral has experienced since the election has been well-documented. Trump has listed the hotel in federal disclosures as one of his most lucrative properties. However, since 2015, room rates, golf, banquets, as well as overall revenue, were all down. By 2017, the hotel’s net operating income had declined nearly 70 percent.
Meanwhile, Coretta Washburn, co-founder of event planning agency R2CW, said that hosting the event at his own resort would be a “logistical nightmare,” whether or not the event does much to help the resort’s image or bottom line. Food, drink, and other amenities at high-end hotels are extremely expensive, and justifying those costs in a political sense will be a challenge.
“When you work with these kinds of events, there are usually restrictions. You have to make sure you have back-up for every little cost, because you’re going to be called on for political reasons to justify it,” she said. “As a meeting planner, if you have a five star hotel, that kind of pricing is normal, but for other people it seems over-the-top.”
She pointed to an incident in 2011, when the Justice Department was heavily criticized for spending over $16 dollars per muffin at a gathering held at the Capital Hilton in Washington. It became a symbol of wasteful and extravagant spending, especially as it took place so soon after the Great Recession.
Washburn noted that these kinds of negative optics would be magnified in Trump’s case, since his name is on the resort, and since the business still ultimately benefits his family, if not the president directly.
Putting direct political issues aside, however, it is important to look at the venue for what it is. Here, meeting planners are a little more divided, with some saying that it is perfectly suited for the event, while others see major issues.
Washburn believes the Doral does not live up to the location of 2019’s G7 Summit, which was held in Biarritz, France at the Hotel du Palais Biarritz. The Hotel du Palais is a five star property, originally built as a summer villa for a French Empress in the mid-19th Century. While the villa burned down in 1903, it was lavishly rebuilt and it preserved its original walls. Nowadays, the hotel has 57 suites and 84 rooms, an exceptionally high number of suites for what is a relatively small hotel.
This contrasts sharply with the Doral, which is a four star hotel and has roughly 700 rooms, with about 43 of those being suites. The resort was built in the 1960s and has massive amounts of meeting space and ballrooms. While this size is convenient, Washburn said, it all contributes to a more corporate, and less personal and opulent feel.
“I think the main issue is that you’re dealing with a huge hotel, more like a conference-style hotel versus a very small, exclusive five star property,” she said. “At a five star, the staff is going to know you by name, they’re going to know who you are, and if you’ve stayed there before they’re going to put things in your room that they know you like. Meanwhile, at a four star, those things are available, but you have to ask for it.”
Others, meanwhile, viewed the large size of the venue to be ideal, considering the amount of staff and press that will be accompanying the delegates. With so many available rooms, it will mean not having to host some of the staff in off-site accommodations. Plus, the property is self-contained with a wide array of amenities on site, including spa, golf, dining, and pools
The location near downtown Miami was another point in the property’s favor, according to Jeff Berger, CEO of Conference Meeting Resources.
“I was excited about Doral and the Greater Miami Area having an opportunity to showcase itself to the world,” he said. “So many impressive things have happened in this market over the past few decades and it’s a wonderful opportunity for the world to be exposed to its richness and diversity.”
“Miami as a city is a great international location to begin with,” Bruce added. “It’s a top-shelf location.”
Meanwhile, all three meeting planners agreed that the resort’s position next to a major international airport was a plus, if not a necessity. Not only will people be flying in from all over the world, but many of the foreign delegates will be using private planes, and the venue needs to be near an airport that can handle the landing of these aircraft.
Washburn, however, came back to the political implications of hosting the event at Doral, as well as what she considers the venue’s more corporate feel. She pointed out that there were many properties along the east coast situated in or near a major metropolitan area with access to an international airport, which might be better suited for the G7 Summit.
The Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for example, may be a good choice, due to its recent construction and its elevated quality of service. She also pointed to the St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton hotels in New York.
“I think if it’s on the East Coast and its centrally located within a metropolitan area, there will be a place for the delegates’ staff,” she said. “Again, it’s a lot of people, and it’s a lot of high-security people. And that makes it complicated. You have to get everyone there and back safe, and while they’re there safe.”
Berger, meanwhile, pointed to the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs as an alternative some had proposed, although he believes that the Doral is better located.
Perhaps the biggest issue of an event of this kind and magnitude is security, both physical as well as digital. Berger and Bruce emphasized that the Doral resort has excellent security, both because of how secluded it is, and because it has decades of experience hosting heads of state.
“Doral is a very safe hotel from the standpoint of security,” Bruce said. “You’re not dealing with a beach property where you’d have to worry about something out in the water.”
“Doral knows how to service this caliber of clientele with all of the expectations each attendee has, with their own security details and entourages,” Berger added.
While this is good for physical security, Washburn flagged internet security as a major concern for foreign delegates who may not feel secure in a property owned by the family of the U.S. president, especially considering the tumultuous political relationship Trump has had even with long-time U.S. allies.
“I don’t think foreign governments want to stay in a hotel that’s owned by the president of the United States,” Washburn said. “They’re going to have to make a secure room, and I don’t think they can necessarily do that on a property that’s owned by an agent of the government.”
She referenced then-president Obama’s decision not to stay at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. A year earlier, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese holding company, had bought the hotel brand from Hilton Worldwide. The president’s decision was “due to costs and space needs of the U.S. government as well as security concerns,” a senior administration official told CNN at the time.
Bruce added that hosting the summit at a resort the president previously owned, and has helped develop, did tip the scales in Trump’s favor.
“It gives him home field advantage,” said Bruce. “This has Trump’s name on it, and it does put the members in a different type of position than if they were staying at a Marriott or a Hilton.”