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Hot Takeoff: The Trumps Have a New Hotel Idea, and It’s Actually Very Clever

The junior Trumps will aim a line of hotels at Donald Trump's voter base in Middle America

Hot Takeoff is a column about travel and cities by the editor of Billy.

Don’t let it be said the Trumps never think about the needs of the struggling classes. Just so you know, they have a new Idea and it is all about doing something for the little guy.  

As The New York Times reports: “On the campaign trail, President Trump’s children rolled through dozens of small towns across the country, reveling in the adoration of the crowds. But they were less enamored of the budget-friendly hotels along the way, an assortment of run-of-the-mill offerings that were barely distinguishable from one another. That led to a business idea.”

The Trump Organization’s planned line of hotels, to be called American Idea, will be Americana-themed, and aimed at smaller centres as opposed to major cities. To give us a sense of price point, the Times says some locations will be rebranded Holiday Inns and Comfort Inns.

The first few locations are planned for “little-known towns in Mississippi, a state in the heart of Trump country that [favoured] him over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 18 percentage points.” It will be interesting to see what kind of hotels they turn out to be. The Times said they will feature “artifacts of American culture … such as an old Coca-Cola machine in the lobby or American-made sundries in the rooms.”

(Sadly, one suspects this will result in a rash of unpaid invoices for the American sundries-making industry.)

I’m personally going to wager that modern “green” hotel features, such as voluntary towel re-use and energy-saving lights – the thingy where you have to stick the room card in the slot to make them turn on – probably aren’t part of this American Idea. And there are people who would appreciate the absence of hippie crap like that.

Blue collars and Red States

According to a certain media narrative, the Trump appeal largely mobilizes the white working class, people who feel squeezed by the worsening scarcity of non-garbage blue collar jobs, and who experience “economic anxiety” as a result.

"The Trumps have come to believe they are in fact champions of the Patriotic American Everyman."

Some outlets repeat this narrative unquestioningly, while others, to their credit, point out that it is nothing but mythology: Trump voters were actually wealthier than the average American. They were tied together not by the thread of financial insecurity, but by shared misgivings about the multicultural reality taking shape around them.

Yet the Trumps, who breathe a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and their own recirculated hype, have come to believe they are in fact champions of the Patriotic American Everyman despite their long history of stiffing contractors. Why not do something after the fact to capitalize on the mantle? And what do the Trumps know, if not how to brand hotels? Hence, a chain aimed at people who will pull into the parking lot in trucks decorated with flags.

It’s actually a really clever idea – probably the smartest one in Trumpland since the realization that if Donald Trump was only a middling success as a hardball businessman in real life, he could at least nail the part on television.  

The fading Trump mystique

It also makes sense for the Trumps to shift focus from the old brand to a new one because most big city-dwelling, frequent-travelling types with money no longer think of Trump and the things he stands for as luxurious or aspirational in any way.

Reports since last summer have (sometimes gleefully) noted that bookings at Trump-branded properties have plummeted. Principled disgust at the pronouncements of Trump the politician are assumed to be hurting Trump the hotelier.

Trump Hotels

Trump International Hotel and Tower, New York

However, even in the alternate timeline where The Donald hadn’t run for office and hadn’t become a noted foe of pluralism, could the brand have survived in the long run? I mean really, who is the market for a pricey hotel in a major city that looks like your great-aunt’s idea of fancy?

"It is now impossible to imagine a hip, upper-middle-class professional couple booking a Trump room."

Moving on from the tired Trump aesthetic – actually, no, let’s not move on: Let’s have some fun and giggle at it a minute. Out of curiosity I poked around the Trump Tower lobby in Manhattan days before last November’s election (Kellyanne Conway was speed-walking through, but quite graciously stopped and posed for photos with a group of tourists). All pink and black marble, and brassy-gold accents, it reminded me of suburban Toronto’s Promenade Mall, like, 30 years ago. It looked like something out of the original Dallas.  It was the skyscraper equivalent of a big-shouldered 1987 Hugo Boss suit accessorized with gold chains.

It is now impossible to imagine, say, a hip, upper-middle-class professional couple from Mile End/Park Slope/Hintonburg/Leslieville – in other words, a good portion of the population who might have $900 kicking around for a night’s hotel stay – booking a Trump room to bask in the “luxury” of fake gilding, Trump-branded robes (made in China) and steaks cooked until they’re tough as a Marine.

Except maybe as a joke.

I suspect their fading cachet has motivated the Trumps to focus so much on deals in markets outside the developed West. The brand will inevitably become a spent force in your hoity-toity Londons and Montreals before long, while in certain other locales, it might take longer for the message to arrive that the Trumps are lame and vulgar. (Also, there can be other motivations for building hotels in countries with poor protections against graft.)

So, the primary Trump line of hotels may have been doomed in the long run anyway, and maybe the kids had figured that out, and bingo bango, an idea pops into their heads. An American idea.

And yes, while certain American ideas travel less well than they used to, this particular notion has a chance to conquer the world – or at least the low-to-mid-range segment of the U.S. hotel market. And perhaps beyond?

Ideas that travel

What if the Trump hotel brand catches on so well that it eventually expands overseas? If an American Idea hotel is available to book in, say, England or France, boasting all the usual American-style emoluments – sorry, I meant to say “amenities” – travelling Trump fans will likely book there.

"But if people start sorting themselves into hotels on the basis of ideology, what sort of encounters will they miss out on?"

Here’s the problem with that: In a 2008 book called The Big Sort, journalist Bill Bishop and sociologist Robert Cushing argued that physical/geographical self-separation has played a big part in America’s ongoing ideological and philosophical schism. In a nutshell, people with Blue State-type notions had spent decades flocking to Blue cities, while people with Red State beliefs had gradually moved to Red states and counties. And as a matter of sociological fact, when you only spend time around like-minded people, your beliefs harden and calcify. That goes for all points on the political spectrum, by the way.

But if people start sorting themselves into hotels, let alone cities, on the basis of ideology, what sort of enlightening encounters will they miss out on? If you’re surrounded by like-minded people and the comforts of the homeland – rather than being challenged by people with different ideas and backgrounds – one could argue you’re not really travelling, you’re just taking your impervious little bubble for a spin outside the house.

Though I suppose cultural isolation is the whole point. For some people it’s an appealing idea. And boy, do the Trumps ever have a genius for capitalizing on it.

Published Wednesday, June 7th 2017

Header image credit: Donald Jr., Donald, and Eric Trump. Courtesy NBC

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