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A Lifetime Achievement

Trump CEO, Industry Icon Danziger Talks Hospitality During BITAC® One-on-One Interview

Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Dennis Nessler
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The annual BITAC® Symposium kicked off earlier this week in Miami with an exclusive one-on-one interview with Eric Danziger, CEO, Trump Hotels, who offered some perspective on the industry as he spoke at length about his career in hospitality.

Danziger also held similar leadership positions with companies such as Starwood Hotels, Carlson Hotels and Wyndham Hotel Group throughout his 48 years in the industry. The following Q&A represents excerpts from the interview that was conducted by Hotel Interactive® Editor-in-Chief Dennis Nessler.

HI: A lot has changed since you took over your post as CEO of Trump Hotels more than three years ago, how would you describe the experience?

Eric: On a high level I’d say it certainly has been a life experience and it wasn’t expected. It is an experience that no one else will ever have. We’ve learned a lot, including certainly crisis management, but it’s been a fabulous experience too because it’s a family business. We’re not public so we’re not obligated to perform at a level that public companies are obligated to perform at. We’ve launched a couple new brands. It’s been a wonderful experience.

HI: You started in this business when you were 17 years old as a bellman at the Fairmont San Francisco, how did that help shape your career?

Eric: I do think in my case it’s helpful to understand the business, which gives you credibility with the employee constituency. It gives you a better understanding of how you really execute programs. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been lucky with great mentors, I’ve been lucky with a spouse who moved 14 times when I was a young hotel guy. To be the first CEO of Starwood and build that company and Wyndham twice—once when it was a public company—and Carlson and so on. I’ve been really fortunate in these 48 years.

HI: Part of your hospitality background includes a stint with the DoubleTree brand where you introduced the iconic chocolate chip cookie. What inspired that idea?

Eric: It was pure luck it became an icon because I sure wasn’t that smart. We had 13 hotels at the time in roughly 1984 and I was running them. It was a little tough to compete with Marriott and other companies so we were thinking what could we do to differentiate? In a think tank group it came to me that ‘wasn’t it neat when you were a kid to be tucked in at night with milk and cookies?’ VIPs used to get fruit and cheese and we thought the cookies and milk thing would be really terrific. We abandoned the milk after one day because it’s not a really good idea to leave milk out for a couple of hours. When we invented the program you got this little box next to the bed that had my young face on it and basically said we’re tucking you in tonight and thanks for staying with us. It sort of became the McDonalds and fries thing. The guests would fold over the cookie box if they didn’t eat it right there and next thing you know every kid would be saying to dad or mom ‘go back and get some more cookies.’ So it became an icon of the brand.

HI: How would you describe luxury hospitality and what it takes to succeed at the luxury level today?

Eric: So the promise in luxury is a great physical property that is clearly a quality luxury experience and luxury hospitality. You hear me at conferences all the time really bemoaning that we call this the hotel business but it’s not, it’s the hospitality business…I think that whole experience about delivering what you’re supposed to do in an incredibly sincere and hospitable way is the luxury expectation of a customer. To know that the people are there to take care of their needs and wants and help them feel like they really were welcome in this building; that’s luxury.

HI: You’ve launched a lot of brands over the years, how would you describe the process?

Eric: I can’t speak for everybody in my mind it’s a little less on formal research than it is on life experience and intuition. Many times my philosophy has been why don’t I ask the people I’m around the most what they think. Usually we get great ideas from our own people so I like to start inside. For me when we’re sitting around talking about your brand at any company it’s what it is needed that doesn’t exist today or what exists today that we don’t think is done well? How would we improve upon it if it was ours and then what would we do? Naming is interesting, every name I’ve come up with any brand has been done internally. Then you have the hard part, if you’re not owning them, you’ve got to go sell them and you got to have someone interested in doing one. Then you have to deliver the marketing campaign, which would then deliver the proverbial heads in beds. So it’s a long process and awfully hard, but also incredibly exciting.

HI: What do you like most about the industry in 2018?

Eric: I think the introduction of new brands is a good thing. It is a good thing because there are a lot of brands that really ought to go away to pasture and become glue. It is an opportunity and why you launch a brand. There are too may brands that are not good for the consumer experience or the owner experience, because they’re not relevant and they haven’t kept up. They should either become relevant or keep up or pack their bags and go away…I do think that the industry has recognized that there is a need for both consumers and owners to provide a new fresh product that is relevant to the consumer.”

HI: What do you like least about the industry in 2018?

Eric: Being a kid that started as a bellman I don’t see that there’s a generation of talent that’s being embraced to become a hotelier. It’s an industry that depends 100 percent on people…The next generation of hoteliers we haven’t found them and the industry needs to do a much better job of attracting great talent to this business.

Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
Hotel Interactive®, Inc.
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