Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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Donald Trump, Demagogue Hotelier
December 10, 2015 -- Donald J. Trump told the world on Monday that he wants a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," but no one told the folks who run his hotel chain. The Arabic-language website for his Trump Hotel Collection is actively soliciting booking for its luxury properties in New York, Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas and Honolulu.

You may think Trump, currently leading the crowded Republican pack, should be the next president of the United States. Or, you may think he's a preening egomaniac who spits in the face of American values. To you, he may be saint or sinner. But those are political judgments and we don't do politics in Seat 2B.

We do business travel here and, speaking strictly as a business travel commentator, it's hard not to conclude that Trump is a demagogue laughing all the way to the bank.

In case you are unfamiliar with Trump Hotels, the operation isn't one of Donald Trump's in-name-only licensee operations. He doesn't simply sell his name, collect a check and then claim deniability for any misdeeds or missteps. Trump Hotels is a hotel-management firm that is literally managed by the Trump family.

In its pitch to hotel developers who might hire the Trump Hotel Collection to manage their properties, the Trump inner family circle is prominently featured. Ivanka Trump and her brothers, Eric and Donald Jr. are credited with founding the hotel operations. And a Trump Hotels employee I've known for decades says that Ivanka herself is the driving force behind the chain, which also operates in Canada, Panama, Scotland and Ireland.

"She's running the show," he told me a few years back. "And she happens to be a damned fine hotelier with great instincts."

In other words, Trump Hotels is not a distant outpost of the empire that didn't get the new marching orders from HQ. Donald Trump may tell American voters and the world that he wants to stop Muslims from entering America, but his kids are soliciting business from Muslim business travelers and leisure customers from around the world. And they are literally doing it in their language. The Trump Hotels Arabic website is clear and unequivocal: Come stay with us in New York's trendy Soho or overlooking Central Park, near the beaches of Waikiki and Miami, at the heart of the action in Vegas or on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Like I said, speaking strictly as a business travel observer, it's impossible not to conclude that Trump is a demagogue. The Trump Hotel operations make clear he's not only not against Muslims coming to America right now, today, this very moment he's willing and eager to rent them high-priced hotel rooms when they arrive. (The least-expensive room at the Trump Soho, for example, is $395 a night for bookings next week and $310 a night a month for now.)

To clarify matters, I called the Trump Hotel Collection's central reservation number and asked whether Muslim visitors were welcome. The voice on the other end seemed confused by the question, but eventually told me she was sure Muslim visitors were welcome. I asked her if there was any directive from Trump headquarters to discourage Muslim travelers. She said there wasn't.

I reached out to Trump Hotel officials for an explanation of their policies. I emailed Eric Danziger, the hotel-industry veteran who in August was named chief executive of Trump Hotels. I emailed Nathan Crisp, vice president of revenue management and distribution. I even emailed Glodow Nead Communications, a public relations firms that handled Danziger's appointment and lists the Trump Soho on its clients page. I also emailed several other marketing executives at Trump properties.

I heard back from none of them, even though I took the extraordinary step of sending my questions in advance. They knew specifically what I was asking about and I was prepared to publish their answers here for your edification.

I also reached out to everyone I knew who worked at Trump Hotels and asked for off-the-record comments about the dichotomy between Donald Trump's public statements this week and the hotel chain's cointinued solicitation of Muslim business. I didn't hear from any of them, either.

For the record, I'll repeat the questions I asked the Trump Hotel Collection:

  • In light of Donald Trump's call for a "total and complete" ban on Muslims coming to America, do Trump Hotels continue to rent rooms to Muslims?
  • If Donald Trump believes Muslims are a danger to the United States, why do his hotels in the United States continue to solicit Muslim guests? (In his statement on Monday, Trump claimed "our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.")
  • Why would supporters of Donald Trump feel safe in a Trump Hotel Collection property if the chain continues to court business from and rent rooms to Muslims?
As a business journalist, I'm trained to "follow the money." And if you follow the money rather than listen to Donald Trump's statements, you can't help but notice that Trump himself and Trump Hotels are expanding, not contracting, their business with Muslims.

During the summer, months after he officially declared his presidential ambitions, Trump Hotels announced two new properties. Both are in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. One of the hotels is in Bali, which has been brutally attacked at least twice by a radical Muslim group called Jemaah Islamiyah. It is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government. The Department of State's information sheet for Indonesia also notes that Jemaah Islamiyah attacked two Western hotels in Jakarta in 2009.

(For the record, Trump's local partner in the Indonesia ventures, the MNC Group, is headed by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, believed to be Christian.)

The huge gap between candidate Trump's political rhetoric and the actions of the hotel chain founded and operated by businessman Trump and his children hasn't gone unnoticed. On Tuesday, IdeaWorks, a travel consultancy fronted by a former airline executive, called for a boycott of Trump Hotels.

Trump's views "hurt the travel industry as a whole by urging a more divided world," fumed IdeaWorks president Jay Sorensen. "I will not benefit this man by being a customer of his. I will not step foot inside a Trump Hotel or patronize any Trump enterprise to attend a conference, stay overnight, or dine in his restaurants."

A note to readers: As a matter of full disclosure, you should know that my wife works for a publicity firm that once represented a Trump Hotel Collection property.


This column is Copyright 2015 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.