Danny King
Danny King

This past September, Trump International Hotels opened a luxury property at Washington's redeveloped Old Post Office Pavilion that totaled 263 rooms.

And while that room total is relatively miniscule in the grand scheme of the hotel industry -- Marriott International expects to add about 66,000 rooms this year, or 263 rooms every 35 hours, now that it has acquired Starwood Hotels -- those rooms might create enough of a legal scuffle to cause an unprecedented scenario where the president of the U.S. might sue the General Services Administration (GSA), according to one legal scholar.

And anyone who can wrap their mind around that concept has a more nimble brain than this reporter.

Welcome to the world of a hotel beat writer covering Donald Trump, where stories about the most polarizing executive in the hotel industry have the shelf life of an ice cream sundae.

Good thing we're a weekly.

We'll start with some classic journo-speak by saying, "Here's what we do know."

Guests appear to like Trump's hotels, or at least the 10 in North America that his company manages (that leaves out Atlantic City's recently shuttered Trump Taj Mahal, in which the Trump Organization sold its stake in 2009). Trump International properties in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas each garnered 4.5 stars out of five in their TripAdvisor ratings. Sure, the D.C. property only got four stars, but that may be due to growing pains, and it's offset by the five-star rating the Trump International Toronto got (ignore for a moment the irony of the Canadian property rating better than the American ones).

Beyond that, though, any financial details regarding closely held Trump International Hotels disappear into a pea-soup fog. Unlike public companies such as Marriott, Hilton Worldwide or Hyatt Hotels, Trump International Hotels' sales, RevPAR, occupancy, ownership stake and, of course, earnings are all a mystery to the public.

The most obvious area of conflict is the D.C. property.

Forget, briefly, the face-value perception issue of having the president's name on a hotel within eyeshot of the White House (the Obama Georgetown or the Bush National Harbor, anyone?). No, there's the very real legal issue involving the GSA, the hotel's landlord, potentially declaring the Trump Organization's 60-year ground lease null and void upon the president-elect's Jan. 20 inauguration because, according to lease documents, the GSA is prohibited from granting leases to elected U.S. officials.

Last month, that triggered a bizarre, "he said/no, I didn't say" situation involving a quartet of Oversight Committee Democrats quoting the GSA's deputy commissioner as saying the president-elect will be in breach of the lease. That was followed shortly by the GSA saying that it couldn't yet take a legal position on the issue.

Either way, with the Trump Organization and its financial partners sinking an estimated $200 million into the property's redevelopment, the "notoriously litigious" Trump Organization might sue the GSA as a result, according to Steven L. Schooner, the Nash & Cibinic Professor of Government Procurement Law at George Washington University Law School (Schooner co-authored a Nov. 28 article on the Government Executive website outlining the issues, and he hasn't been shy with his criticism of how Trump has approached his business interests since Election Day).

Of course, the Trump Organization has been mum on the issue, declining the past few requests for comment from Travel Weekly. The president-elect himself hasn't held a press conference since July, and when the Trump Organization publicly announced its millennial-targeting lifestyle brand in June, there were no details on locations or a time frame for the badge's first properties. In fact, the name of the brand, Scion, wasn't disclosed until September.

As for concerns over Trump's potential conflicts of interest via his business holdings, it's a case of too many protest singers, not enough protest songs. Google "Donald Trump" and "conflict of interest" and almost 8.6 million hits get kicked up. Take a list of countries where Trump's business interests could get sticky once he becomes president -- Kuwait, Argentina, the Philippines and Georgia, for starters -- and you have something akin to an episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," but little clarity, as the president-elect continues to refuse to release his tax returns. Having planned a Dec. 15 press conference detailing how he would remove his involvement in his company's business operations, Trump reversed field last month, postponing the conference in favor of a Dec. 12 tweet that said that he'll be "leaving" the business before his inauguration, will put sons Donald Jr. and Eric in charge and that "no new deals will be done during my term[s] in office."

"The media tries so hard to make my move to the White House, as it pertains to my business, so complex," he tweeted three days later. "When actually it isn't!"

Glad we got that cleared up.

It's getting weirder, and not just because of the intensity actor Alec Baldwin brings to his Trump impersonations on "Saturday Night Live" or the California state government's eagerness to fight the president-elect on everything from his stances on climate change to immigration reform to marijuana legalization.

On the relatively genteel side of things, Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott, took to LinkedIn three days after November's election to make a plea to Trump for reason when it came to border security and policies on undocumented workers.

And while cynics might say such pleas are merely a reflection of the importance of international travel and labor stability to the world's largest hotel company's business, Sorenson pulled no punches in his "open letter," calling the border wall Trump threatened to force Mexico to build "unwise" and warning against "convinc[ing] yourself that your victory is a personal mandate that absolves you of the need to collaborate in governing."

Harsher still is the rise in hate crimes since the election, reported by groups ranging from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Anti-Defamation League, reflecting what some say are the aftereffects of campaign rhetoric that included bashing both Muslims and Mexicans residing in the U.S. without legal documentation.

How a hospitality-industry reporter is to properly cover a person who now sits at the nexus of politics, civics and tourism remains unclear and will probably remain so well after Inauguration Day. There are individual issues, such as ESPN reporting in mid-November that at least three NBA teams (including the Dallas Mavericks, owned by frequent Trump critic Mark Cuban) stopped staying at Trump International Hotels. A clear stance, to be sure, though it's a far cry from boycotting Hilton.

That said, being a child of the 1970s, I've recently thought frequently of how tumultuous and explosive the year 1968 was, what with the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and riots in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, et al.

Take another European mass-terror killing via truck in December, cross that with the carnage in and mass exodus from Syria, then add in the U.S. election cycle and all the sociological detritus that's broken loose, and one might ask if we've just lived through another 1968.

Or maybe we're just embarking on one.


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