Mixing business and politics is regarded in most countries as unacceptable because of the conflict of interest it creates. The issue becomes particularly acute if the politician concerned not only seeks to link his campaign to his commercial interests, but also, seemingly oblivious to the implications, then insults a significant proportion of his potential market.
For this reason, the willingness of the Republican candidate for the US Presidency, Donald Trump, to associate his hotels and other branded ventures with his campaign and then alienate many of his potential guests, suggests an interesting opportunity for further study; particularly if a recent survey undertaken by Travel Weekly is correct in suggesting that his extraordinary political campaign may be having a toxic effect on bookings at his personally branded hotels and golf courses.
Right from the start of his campaign Mr Trump made no secret of the fact that he would use the campaign to leverage his brand. Speaking in the first presidential debate he said: “We’re just opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the White House, so if I don’t get there one way, I’m going to get to Pennsylvania Avenue another.”
More recently still, together with his family, he chose to call a press conference at the same Trump International Hotel, a US$200m property just a few blocks from the White House, to promote what he described as “the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington” by linking it with his campaign message about his ability to get things done.
Travel Weekly, the industry publication, has recently reported however, that a specially commissioned survey and anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate that linking a brand in this way may not be advisable, as business at his properties may be lessening in parallel with what Mr Trump has said during the presidential campaign and recent lurid revelations about his attitude towards women.
Travel Weekly said that it had polled a representative sample of its readers to ascertain whether travel agents were seeing any impact, positive or negative, on demand for Trump-branded resorts and hotels. The survey indicated that around 61 per cent of travel agents – an industry dominated by women – responded by saying that they were recommending Trump-branded hotels and resorts less often than before he began his bid for the White House. More alarmingly for Brand Trump, just over half of the agents surveyed said that their clients have told them they are not interested in staying at Trump-branded properties because of his campaign.
Travel Weekly wrote that its results largely reflected other recent reports, including recent surveys conducted by the social media company Foursquare, and Women in Travel and Tourism International. It also quoted a New York magazine story about the Trump International Hotel in Washington that suggested that the property may have been dropping its rates at a time when ‘all other five-star downtown hotels were sold out.’
In response, Trump Hotels CEO, Eric Danziger said the branded hotels had been “tremendously successful” and characterized Foursquare’s data as “manipulated to appear meaningful.” He said that Trump Hotels, were exceeding all targets across a variety of metrics, including group bookings and reservation volumes.
Other reports suggest that the campaign may have touched some investors as well. While some have said that the publicity is excellent and is encouraging them to take foreword their joint investment plans to work with the Trump organisation, others in parts of the Middle East have expressed concern that the brand has become toxic to Muslims. Meanwhile, the Trump organisation is holding initial talks with Trump television, a planned global brand seemingly intended to out-fox Fox News.
In just a few days’ time we will know the outcome of the US presidential race. It may take a little longer to know the commercial impact on Brand Trump.