At last, Donald Trump has an address on Pennsylvania Avenue. Whether he gets another will be determined in eight weeks.
The Trump International Hotel held its “soft” opening Monday, welcoming the public inside to give employees an opportunity to work with guests and to iron out any kinks before its grand opening at the end of October-- just before the presidential election.
Even with canceled celebrity chef contracts, the loss of a financial partner and at least one ongoing lawsuit, many view the property as a positive development for the nation’s capital. Trump International Hotel is just one of a handful of luxury hotel properties in the D.C. area — a portfolio that includes the likes of The Four Seasons, The St. Regis, The Mandarin Oriental, The Park Hyatt, and The Ritz-Carlton.
But the Trump International is unique. It’s housed in a historic federal building, which may interest tourists who can’t afford it-- or just choose not to stay there.
“The demand is there,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, which manages and markets Washington as a convention and tourism destination. “What people are looking for is quality of the stay, type of the experience. They are looking for a high-end luxury experience.”
The hotel, at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. — just blocks from the White House — is located in Washington’s historic Old Post Office building. It’s the second tallest building in the nation’s capital (the Washington Monument is No. 1), and it has a prominent place along the inaugural parade route.
Built in 1899, the nine-story Romanesque Revival structure fills an entire city block on the north side of the Federal Triangle along Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the Capitol and the White House. Covered in granite over an iron and steel superstructure, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
On Monday, visitors gathered in the main lobby lounge, where navy, teal, light blue and gold seating arrangements created a living room-like setting. Crystal chandeliers hung alongside the building’s original industrial internal structure. Carpeting covered part of the marble floor. Guests occupied every seat at the bar, which has four television screens above it.
Asked how Trump’s presidential campaign has affected the new hotel, its managing director said it hasn’t.
“Our single focus remains on managing one of the finest luxury hotels in the world,” Mickael Damelincourt said via email. “The Trump Hotels brand is completely separate from the campaign.”
But others feel differently. By midday Monday, some protesters had begun gathering in front of the hotel. “There are protests in Washington on a daily basis,” a spokeswoman from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office said. “There’s always a cause going on. There’s always someone who wants their voice to be heard.”
Despite some negative attention, the hotel is already attracting a range of guests and visitors.
“We are the only luxury hotel with such a prime location along the parade route,” Damelincourt wrote. “As one of the busiest times of the year in D.C., we expect it to be a very exciting time on property with a wide range of guests. Many business executives from corporations from around the globe will be visiting. We’ve had significant interest for the 6,300 sq. ft. Trump Townhouse as well as the 4,000 sq. ft. Presidential Suite.”
During the rest of the year, he expects the clientele to range “from executives to leisure travelers to corporate groups and large wedding parties.”
Interest in staying in Washington has been strong this year. Through July, hotel occupancy in the city’s central business district was at 80.3 percent, according to STR, Inc., which tracks hotel data. The occupancy rate for the country was just over 66 percent.
And it figures to be close to 100 percent on Inauguration Day. “Like all the other hotels on Pennsylvania Avenue, we will be sold out” on Jan. 20, said Damelincourt, who has been with Trump Hotels for 10 years. “This is the place the entire world will look at that day, as we’re centrally located along the parade route.”
The five-star property should be a perfect viewing location for guests willing to spend upwards of $900 per night — not to mention $500,000 for the Trump townhouse package. He said the Trump International Hotel is positioned as a five-star property, competing at the luxury end of the D.C. market with the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental, the St. Regis and just a handful of others.
A rate comparison using hotel web sites for a three-night stay from Oct 28 to Oct. 31 showed an average rate of $565 per night for the “save and stay” package at the Four Seasons in Georgetown; $558.33 per night for a Premier King room at The Jefferson and $509 per night for a Premier Room at the Trump International.
"It's hard to compete with Ritz-Carlton [rooms at the Ritz start around $580], but Trump is a five-star brand," said Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel. "It's an extraordinary hotel for Washington, D.C.”
Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette Vacations says travelers and agents select hotels based on personal preferences, including location, style, design, amenities and perceived value. The Trump International has a level of luxury that is apparent throughout all of the hotel properties.
“It’s not only close to the Capitol, but you get into an opulence, pampering. It’s like The Four Seasons on steroids,” said Twidale.
Tourism executives select hotels for their tour packages based on what fits their brand. Collette Vacations, for example, uses three-and-a-half- and four-star properties for their vacation products. “We look collectively and holistically as to what meets our brand standard,” said Twidale. The Trump International isn’t the right fit for their vacations because it’s a five-star property, she said.
But people who don’t stay at the Trump may still want to visit it and reminsicence about its former days as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters (and the city's main post office), tour its on-property museum and to go to the top of the Clock Tower, where they’ll see sweeping views of D.C. and hear the ringing of the Bells of Congress.
Though the area “has not been known for activities after hours,” Ferguson said he expects “more activity on Pennsylvania Avenue” with the opening of the hotel, which has a restaurant and a spa.
The National Park Service conducts free daily tours of the hotel’s Museum Gallery Walkway, which includes dioramas, imagery and videos depicting the history of early Washington. After the tour, a Park Service ranger escorts guests to a glass-enclosed elevator that takes them to the 270-foot-high observation deck of the Clock Tower. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Labor Day through Memorial Day, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer.
Whether Trump or Hillary Clinton gets to welcome the public to another address just a few blocks away won’t be known until November. But no matter how the election turns out, starting next month, the Trump International Hotel and the White House should have a place on any Washington tourist’s must-see list.