There’s an intriguing theory, fully articulated by the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, circulating on the Internet that Donald Trump has no real interest in winning the race for President. Rather, the theory goes, Trump’s true goal is to enhance his personal brand, in the process driving more business to his current portfolio of enterprises and setting the stage for the creation of a Trump media empire.
Regardless of how you feel about the theory, or about Trump himself, the idea raises the question of whether Trump’s antics are a positive or a negative for his hotels.
Clearly, Trump has his detractors. Equally clearly, he has his supporters. But gauging the effect of his candidacy on his business is not as easy as predicting his share of the popular vote, which will be confirmed on November 8. No doubt some Democrats will spurn Trump at the voting booth but book a room in his hotel out of curiosity. Visitors from overseas may be more motivated by the novelty factor than by political considerations. His notoriety is both a force of attraction and repulsion, and the net effect is far from clear.
The Trump Organization, which oversees his 15-hotel network, doesn’t disclose occupancy rates, so it’s hard to get a fix on the company’s recent financial performance.
But Foursquare, the “location intelligence company,” has determined that foot traffic to Trump hotels was down 19 percent in September 2016 versus 2014, when Trump’s name wasn’t part of the country’s political conversation. That decline follows decreases of 7.1 percent in August, 14 percent in July, and 17 percent in June.
Hipmunk, the travel-booking site, reports even steeper declines in Trump Hotel business. For the first half of 2016, bookings at Trump properties made through Hipmunk were off a hefty 58 percent over the same period last year.
Another sign that a Trump association may be a negative: When Trump Hotels announced its new “lifestyle” hotel brand in September, it was notable for its lack of a visible Trump connection. It will be called Scion, and the news release quoted three company executives, but not Donald.
So far, then, all signs point to Trump’s candidacy’s having a negative effect on his hotel business. But Trump, who has bounced back from all manner of bankruptcies and lawsuits, may be playing the long game here, betting that any losses in the short term will be more than offset by gains when his gaffes and insults have been forgotten.
Only time will tell whether Donald Trump’s brand, and Trump Hotels’ fortunes, can be resurrected.
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.