Trump Hotel CEO leaves a declining brand

Donald J. Trump’s top hotel executive is leaving the company as his five-star hotel brand has given way to the former president’s other lucrative ventures.

The executive, Eric Danziger, cited family reasons for his departure. He joined Trump Hotels in 2015 with plans to expand the business, but instead oversaw the downsizing of a significant portion of the hotel portfolio as Mr Trump’s polarizing politics tarnished the brand, legal scrutiny and ethics scared off potential partners and that the pandemic was sending the hospitality industry into a tailspin.

Since 2017, the Trump name has withdrawn from hotels in New York, Toronto, Panama, Vancouver and, soon, Washington, as once lucrative deals have been canceled or sold. Trump hotels, for decades a defining feature of the former president’s global real estate business, have shrunk to seven properties. Any immediate hopes of rebuilding the hotel brand after Mr. Trump left were likely dashed by the fallout from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as many businesses parted ways with the Trumps.

Mr. Danziger, 67, announced his departure on Wednesday in an email sent to colleagues in the hotel industry, where he has been a figurehead for decades. He said he would become chief executive of Braintree Group, a Boise, Idaho company that has multiple lines of business, including hospitality. The email said he owned a home in Boise and had a son who worked for Braintree.

In an internal Trump Organization email obtained by The New York Times, Danziger thanked the Trump family for always being “incredibly supportive,” adding, “I will always treasure my time here.”

Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Danziger’s tenure coincided with a period of deep turmoil for the company, including a series of congressional and law enforcement investigations that put a damper on expansion plans.

His departure is part of a wider reshuffle in the company’s management ranks. Mr. Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, lost his title last year after being indicted, along with the Trump Organization itself, for tax evasion. Mr. Weisselberg remains with the company in a lesser role.

These decisions placed what was already a close-knit business in the hands of the Trump family. Mr. Trump, once he became president, largely handed the business over to his son Eric, who already oversaw his generally successful golf division.

Since leaving office, Mr. Trump has leveraged his political popularity in some quarters to pursue brand new business ventures, ranging from a social media platform to a multi-million dollar advance on a $75 coffee table book. Those revenue lines are separate from the Trump Organization’s core real estate business, which includes hotels, 16 golf clubs and a variety of commercial real estate properties that have been among its biggest money-makers.

Before Mr Trump entered politics, he chaired the company without a chief executive to lead the hotel group.

In 2015, the Trump family recruited Mr. Danziger for a position that felt like the cornerstone of a nearly 50-year career that had seen Mr. Danziger rise from hotel bellboy to senior executive at Starwood, Carlson and Wyndham. But by the time the family announced Mr. Danziger’s nomination in August of that year, Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign had begun, and there were already signs that his divisive politics were going to hurt business.

Despite this, Mr. Danziger’s team began to lay the foundations for growth. They spotted deals in China and the Middle East, while planning the rollout of two new low-end hotel brands in the United States – Scion and American Idea – aimed at capitalizing on Mr. Trump’s popularity in the Red states and cities outside major cities.

The two new national brands took on greater prominence after Mr. Trump was elected president and refused to divest himself of his company, but enacted a self-imposed ban on new transactions in foreign countries.

Mr. Danziger, in a March 2017 interview with The New York Times, spoke optimistically about the new hotel lines, saying the company had signed 30 letters of intent with potential developers. “As far as the presidency has had an effect on us, it could be in one or two hotels that would have protests or whatever,” he said. “We run a business. We manage brands; we add marks.

That summer, the Trumps hosted a New York reception in the atrium of Trump Tower to introduce new hotel partners in the Mississippi Delta. But no further deals materialized, and two years later the Trumps ended that partnership and dropped the new brands, blaming the political climate.

The political toxicity of the Trump name in some of its key markets has also forced the company to retreat.

Partners at Trump-branded hotels in New York and Toronto paid the family to walk away and remove their names from the buildings. A spectacle emerged at a hotel in Panama when a new owner kicked out Trump employees and had the TRUMP letters removed with a hammer and crowbar. The company that owns the Vancouver hotel, which opened in 2017, eventually declared bankruptcy.

The Trump Organization has reached an agreement to soon sell its flagship Washington hotel, which has become a hub for lobbyists and Trump loyalists during his presidency. The deal, worth at least $375 million, is expected to generate profits for the family.

The remaining iconic hotels are in Chicago, Honolulu, Las Vegas and New York, and the company operates luxury golf resorts in Florida, Scotland and Ireland.

As business stalled during the presidency, the Trumps began running a New Jersey hotel owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and one of his administration’s top advisers. The two families also discussed partnerships related to a development in Long Branch, NJ. Mr Danziger described it at the time as a “straightforward business deal”, but it quickly fell apart amid ethical questions.

Upon Mr. Trump’s departure from the White House, Mr. Danziger was free to resume expanding the hotel brand. But the January 6 attack on the Capitol created new setbacks. The series of criminal and civil investigations also left the company in limbo.

At Braintree, Mr. Danziger will oversee a wider range of businesses, including mid-sized hotels, residential properties and charter schools. Jason Kotter, co-founder of Braintree, said Mr. Danziger “will bring depth and breadth of executive prowess.”

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