Eric Trump, EVP Development & Acquisitions, The Trump Organization, is a REALLY nice guy. He looks you straight in the eye and soon as he starts talking about hotels he is as passionate as Andrea Bocelli singing Schubert’s Ave Maria.
“There are three ingredients to a great hotel, location, unique differentiation, and really genuine service”, he says with feeling.
“To take those in order, Chicago and Washington DC are the best spots in town, as is Las Vegas, looking along The Strip. When you are in one of our hotels you will not see the same marble in Vancouver as in Miami. When it comes to service, hotels that are responsible to shareholders have to think of the bottom line” he declares, firmly.
Service is led by senior managers whom he sees as part of his extended family. “Suzie Mills, who ran New York for so many years, joined us in 1996, and Mickael Damelincourt, MD of Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C., is an 11- year veteran. The hotel industry in general is a constantly turning wheel but our people stay and we are free of bureaucracy. If there is an issue they call me direct, even if it is 10 p.m. on a Saturday.”
The 12-property hotel portfolio is not going to grow outside of the USA for the foreseeable future. “Our immediate opportunities are here and there should be an incredible announcement soon”, he says with a no-I-am-not-sharing smile. He admits that one sub-standard acquisition would downgrade the entire portfolio: he has seen too many larger companies make bad mistakes. The ideal addition is an undervalued property with incredible potential in the great location that is one of his three ‘great essentials’: he likens what happens next to buying a tired classic car, and bringing it to such a gleaming state it wins the concours d’elegance.
Being family-owned has, in his case at least, well-publicised disadvantages, but it also has tremendous advantages. Led by Eric Trump, the close-knit company buys, finances and manages. This means that the Trump Organization portfolio includes the 45-bedroom Albemarle Estate at Trump Winery, the largest vineyard on the East Coast, outside Charlottesville VA (and, importantly for this history buff, next to Monticello, which Thomas Jefferson started building at 26, and two other antebellum heritage sites). “When we went into Turnberry, Scotland – childhood home of Robert the Bruce – we added a ballroom that accommodates 650. We also made use of the resort’s iconic 79ft-high lighthouse, put up in 1873 to a design attributed to one of the 19th century’s most respected civil engineers, Robert Stevenson. We turned part of the lighthouse’s tower into the golfing world’s most memorable lodging (the two-bedroom Turnberry Lighthouse Suite). We also made a halfway house snack bar that serves such outstanding fish and chips we had to build an additional carpark to cope with visitors – whoever thought that comfort food in a lighthouse could be such a winner?”, he asks with a laugh.
Trump is also disrupting the image of golf. “Some think of it as an elders’ game but by adding great food and lots of activities for kids, including cooking classes where they prepare lunch for adult family members, we are making golf fun for all ages”, he says, showing off a photo of his own 14-month son. His portfolio is already overseas: Panama has come off the list but there is a second Scottish property, the 19-room MacLeod House & Lodge, near Aberdeen.
I say wait until Eric Trump, and Eric II (the hotels’ CEO, Eric Danziger) can really start going after some of the destinations they surely have already mapped out, with the future in mind. In the Trump Tower office, in Manhattan, Eric Trump sits next to at least a dozen pairs of outsize ribbon-cutting sheers, ready and waiting for yet more luxury hotels.