The Trump Family Has a New Hotel Brand Called American Idea

Trump Hotels

A rendering of the lobby design for Scion Hotels. Trump Hotels announced that the first location will open in Cleveland, Mississippi. Trump Hotels

Skift Take: We have an American idea for President Trump: It might be a better idea to put the country’s needs first ahead of attempts to make money from your elected position.

— Deanna Ting

Trump Hotels is adding a new brand to its portfolio — American Idea — and unlike the company’s eponymous luxury Trump Hotels brand or its other more boutique, four-star brand, Scion, this brand will be marketed as a three-star, midscale brand.

The company made the announcement at a reception in the lower level of Trump Tower on June 5, coinciding with the 39th annual NYU Hospitality Investment Conference in New York City. Donald Jr. and Eric Trump were in attendance at the reception, as were Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger and the developer working with Trump Hotels to bring the American Idea and Scion brands to life, Dinesh Chawla, the CEO of Chawla Pointe.

A press release announcing the new American Idea brand described it as “a concept rooted in local history and neighborly service” and that the “hotels will be an alternative, for both guests and hotel developers, looking for an answer to the run-of-the-mill offerings currently in the midscale space.”

The new brand already has three signed agreements, Trump Hotels said, all for properties to be located in the Mississippi Delta area of the U.S.

Trump Hotels isn’t the only major hotel company launching a new midscale brand, either. InterContinental Hotels Group CEO of the Americas, Elie Maalouf told Skift that IHG plans to announce a new midscale brand in two weeks, as well. This brand, he said, will begin in the U.S. and Canada with new build properties, and will have a strong focus on design and technology.

Executives from Trump Hotels and hotel developer Chawla Pointe announced the debut of the new American Idea hotel brand from Trump Hotels at Trump Tower.

The First Scion Hotel Will Open in Mississippi

During the reception, the company also confirmed the location of its first Scion hotel brand, which was launched last year during the same hospitality conference.

The first hotel will be called Scion at West End and will open in Cleveland, Mississippi, and is slated to have a combination of 100 rooms, suites and extended stay accommodations.

In a press statement, Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger said, “We are so fortunate to partner with Dinesh and Suresh Chawla, two dynamic and highly accomplished hoteliers who work with a variety of brands. Their family has managed each one of their hotels for over 30 years but they have chosen us to manage Scion at West End. We are honored, and we look forward to a very successful relationship.”

“We are proud to work with the Trump Hotels team to bring the very first SCION hotel experience to life,” said Dinesh Chawla, CEO, Chawla Pointe, LLC. “The team has been incredibly responsive and creative, and as our partners, they have been invaluable resources for us. We are thrilled to bring this exciting project to the Mississippi Delta area.”

Reports earlier this year claimed that the first Scion property would debut in Dallas, but in April, the deal fell through when Dallas councilman Philip Kingston met with the developer of the proposed project. Kingston and a fellow council member openly opposed developer Mike Sarimsakci’s plans to go into business with the Trump Organization.

Following Sarimsakcki’s decision to scrap the plans to work with Trump, Kingston told Bloomberg: “The President is a bad brand and we have to protect the Dallas brand. We’re trying to sell ourselves internationally as a city that’s welcome and open for business travelers, new residents, innovators, young professionals and the president is an extremely bad brand. He’s a hateful and ignorant man who says things that are hurtful to the people I care about.”

Political, Ethical Challenges Face Domestic Growth of Trump Hotels

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, his namesake hotel brand has faced a number of challenges, including ethical concerns, especially from government ethics experts who believe that the company’s decision to use external money to fund its future projects could be seen as a form of “pay to play.”

Still, the company has repeatedly said it will continue to pursue domestic growth, and official news of the first Scion property, as well as the launch of the new American Idea brand seem to confirm that strategy.

In January, Skift interviewed Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger, who told Skift that Trump the President was no longer involved with the Trump hotel company, and that the hotel company’s primary focus going forward would be on domestic growth.

“The simple truth is, is we had a lot of discussions that were related to international growth,” Danziger said. “With the presidency, we’re not going to do any international growth, because of whatever people perceive as conflicts. So, all that did was say that we’re going to have full focus — instead of some focus — on growth domestically of both Trump and Scion.”

“That is a natural outcome of being able to focus a 100-percent on that growth. But I have to say that the opportunities which exist in the United States for both brands are … You can draw your own conclusion. Why wouldn’t a great five-star brand like Trump be in every market that has a five-star market opportunity? Why wouldn’t it be?”

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Says Tourism and Trump’s America First Policy Can Co-Exist

United States Patent and Trademark Office  / Wikipedia Commons

Wilbur Ross, pictured here on March 30 speaking at another event, spoke about the Trump Administration’s commitment to tourism promotion on Monday, June 5 at IPW in Washington, D.C. United States Patent and Trademark Office / Wikipedia Commons

Skift Take: Ross’ speech seemed too good to be true after what we’ve seen from the Trump administration. It has yet to take a single step to make travel to the U.S. easier or more hospitable. Talk is always cheap, but in this administration it’s worth less than that, so far.

— Dan Peltier

“Let me be clear — America is open for business, America is open for travel and open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well,” said United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Monday at The U.S. Travel Association’s IPW conference in Washington, D.C.

Ross painted a warm and supportive picture of the Trump Administration’s views on the travel industry and tourism promotion even as it has tried to impose policies, such as a travel ban, that have been called anti-tourism.

And last week, President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget called for the elimination of Brand USA, the country’s tourism marketing arm, which would gut funding for international tourism promotion at the federal level.

But Ross perhaps gave one of the Trump Administration’s most encouraging speeches on tourism to date in front of one of the largest annual gatherings of the U.S. travel industry and international partners.

Even the word bridge, for example — rather than wall — was included in Ross’ speech. “This administration recognizes the power of travel as an enabling platform for business, a gateway to education and a bridge to bring people together,” he said. “We’re planning for a busy summer travel season and we will welcome millions of international travelers.”

Many of Ross’ comments, though certainly welcomed by the audience of travel professionals, countered the Trump Administration’s America First policy. “The U.S. is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce with the rest of the world,” said Ross. “The travel and tourism business, with its people-to-people ties, is an incredibly potent force in achieving those goals.”

Ross also said that the his department looks forward to working with the travel industry. “At the Department of Commerce, we have a great travel and tourism team and many delegations here have already met with and worked with them,” he said. “They’re eager to help you attract more visitors to our shores. I encourage you to take advantage of their talent and their expertise.”

Job Creation And Security

Ross said the Trump Administration prioritizes travel and tourism and only ranks the industry below national security, job growth, and economic development in terms of importance.

He noted that the U.S. is number one in the world for revenue derived from travel and tourism. “International visitation supports 1.2 million jobs in the U.S,” said Ross. “I say all this within the context of this administration’s top priorities.”

President Trump’s proposed budget, Ross said, reduces tax and regulatory burdens that will help create new jobs, including in the travel industry.

“You’re selling your product in an increasingly competitive global environment,” said Ross. “The weakness of many foreign currencies against the dollar is a challenge you’re facing.”

On security, Ross said the U.S. wants to process travelers “as efficiently and as quickly as possible” and maintain a dual message of national security and tourism promotion.

“We are taking every measure to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive in providing a quality visitor experience,” he said. “But also ensuring the safety our citizens and our guests. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is deploying innovative programs and technology including trusted traveler programs, automated passport control kiosks and mobile passport control.”

The Administration recognizes that more screening and security procedures, such as from the laptop ban, increases wait times and creates customer complaints. “But, we must protect people from terrorists,” said Ross. “Without safety and security, there will be little travel.”

If the last five months of the Trump Administration are an indication, Ross’ statements could be undermined in a tweet from the President or a lack of staffing among departments charged with carrying out the duties.

Still, if U.S travel brands were waiting for a sign that they’ll have leaders on their side in Washington, Ross’ speech signaled that travel brands will at least continue to have a seat at the table.

Late Monday, U.S. Travel sent an effusive statement calling the speech “pitch-perfect for the international audience” at the event.

“In honesty, a number of people probably walked into the room with misgivings about this administration’s views on international visitors, but I’m certain they walked out encouraged that the U.S. government grasps the immense value of inbound travelers,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said. “Coupled with economic news that international travel to the U.S. continued its prolonged uptick at the end of the first quarter, I’m as optimistic as ever that travel will continue its role as a significant growth engine for the U.S. economy, jobs and exports.”

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Hotel CEOs Push Back Against Trump on Travel Ban, Brand USA and Cuba

David Shankbone  / Flickr

Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch issued an impassioned call for the hospitality industry to rally together to prevent another ‘lost decade’ of travel.
David Shankbone / Flickr

Skift Take: Hotel CEOs realize that if tourism to the U.S. drops, it could have a significant adverse impact not only on their own businesses but the industry, and the economy, as a whole.

— Deanna Ting

Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch issued an impassioned call for the hospitality industry to rally together to prevent another “lost decade” of travel.

Speaking to an audience of hospitality industry executives at the 39th annual NYU International Hospitality Conference in New York City on June 5, Tisch asked industry leaders to respond to a number of recent initiatives and policies being floated by President Trump including “extreme vetting,” travel bans, and the proposed elimination of Brand USA.

“Ending this 10-year slump required a united industry effort to push for pro-travel policies,” said Tisch, in reference to the more than $600 billion lost in traveler spending and 467,000 jobs lost following the September 11 attacks in 2001. “We learned some valuable lessons that we need to put into action again today.”

No doubt, given the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in the UK, France and Germany within recent months, there are some parallels between what happened in 2001 and what is taking place right now.

Tisch added that the travel industry generated $246 billion in U.S. exports in 2016, cutting nearly $90 billion off of the country’s trade deficit.

“Travel drives the U.S. economy,” Tisch said. “It’s our job to engage the new leadership in Washington to make sure they understand the role we can play in achieving our shared economic goals. If the Trump administration really wants to cut the trade deficit, they’ll need our help.”

Keeping Brand USA Alive

On the other hand, eliminating Brand USA, the organization tasked with promoting travel to the U.S., would increase the federal deficit by $510 million over the next three years, said Tisch. In its most recent budget proposal, the Trump Administration proposed eliminating Brand USA.

Eliminating Brand USA, Tisch said, “makes no sense on a policy level. It’s completely at odds with the administration’s own economic goals … And by reducing international travel to the U.S., it will also widen America’s trade deficit.”

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson echoed Tisch’s comments.

“I was chairman [of Brand USA] until May,” Sorenson said. “Brand USA is only 5 or 6 years old. This is the first time the U.S. has a deliberate effort to market us to the rest of the world,” Sorenson said. “It’s funded by foreign travelers’ visa apps (applications). No U.S. government money or tax revenues are going into this. The impact it has had is significant, with returns to the U.S. economy that are many, many times greater.”

Brand USA gets its funding when partners make contributions and the fees paid by international travelers to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization program, which determines the visa eligibility of travelers from visa waiver countries, are used as matching funds.

He added, “It’s frustrating to see people say, ‘Let’s get rid of it.’ There’s a piece of that which is an old conservative philosophy, which is governments shouldn’t be involved in supporting any kind of business effort. But frustrating to us is that international arrivals to the U.S. support 2.5 million jobs. If we lost that international business we would lose 2.5 million jobs.

“We are one of the most significant industries in terms of exports because people come to the U.S. and they leave their money and then go home. The government should be involved with this very modest support of Brand USA because it promotes the economic growth of the United States. We’re crazy not to recognize the power of the economic growth from tourism and travel.”

Tisch said, “If anyone should understand the value of a brand and the need to market it effectively … it should be Donald Trump.”

Supporting Infrastructure Improvements

One area where Tisch saw some opportunity for the industry was with regard to the Trump Administration’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure investment program.

“We need to make sure improving our aviation infrastructure — our airports, runways and other essentials — is front and center,” Tisch said. “We can help achieve these goals by making the travel industry a major player in the debate over American infrastructure investment.”

He added, “On the campaign trail, President Trump criticized American airports as ‘third world.’ Now that he’s in the White House, we need to work together to give Americans the airports they deserve. This requires desperately needed capital investment in upgraded runways, gates and terminals to alleviate airport gridlock.”

Tisch said the addition of a satellite-based NextGen air traffic control system alone would reduce delays by 41 percent and create $38 billion in savings by 2020.

Turning Back the Clock on Cuba Travel Restrictions

Should the Trump Administration reverse all agreements signed with Cuba since December 17, 2014, which includes legalized travel in certain categories, hotel CEOs expressed concern, but said it was not as “materially” impactful as other potential travel policy changes being proposed.

However, a recent study from Engage Cuba, a D.C.-based nonprofit, estimated that U.S. airlines and cruise lines could potentially lose an estimated $3.5 billion and more than 10,000 jobs through 2021.

Marriott International inherited Starwood’s Cuba hotel agreements when it acquired the company in September, and currently it is operating one property, a Four Points by Sheraton, and planning to open its second soon.

“There’s obviously nothing about Cuba yet,” Sorenson said. “There’s not much clarity about what needs to happen. It would obviously be frustrating to us if they said, ‘You can’t do business in Cuba.’ It’s not ‘material’ to us in a corporate sense but Cuba is a place Americans would like to go.”

Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that “early signs are great” in terms of his company’s business in Cuba but he also noted, “Cuba is an issue but there are much larger issues we are facing as an industry and our coming together and having our voices heard in this administration is vitally important.

“In the last administration, group efforts were bumpy. It took a bunch of effort from folks in this room, and the U.S. Travel Association to get our voices heard. Travel is a very strong economic driver. More and more of our GDP is going to travel. I think that our voices need to get louder and louder in order to protect our customers and protect our industry.”

For Sebastien Bazin, AccorHotels CEO, Cuba is important, but its scope and size doesn’t make it as large a market as other regions where he’s seeing tremendous opportunity for growth and development.

“Cuba is a wonderful destination but let’s not kill ourselves; It doesn’t have the same size or capacity you can find in Asia-Pacific or Africa,” Bazin said. “For Accor, we have three properties [in Cuba], and we may open up another 10. It’s a wonderful destination. Great culture. Great people. But you’re dealing with the same ownership and same people so ti’s tough. It’s a place where you have to spend time in order to get comfortable.”

Likewise, Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt Hotels, said that his company is seeking to have properties there but the market can be challenging.

“We’re in active discussions to find an opportunity or two that we can begin with. It’s not an easy process, but we’re committed to figuring out a way to do that. I don’t think we’re late in any way. The market is just evolving really slowly at this point.”

He added, “The tether to the U.S. is palpably strong and widespread. I agree with how Sebastien characterized it. It has tremendous headline appeal. Especially in the United States it’s got this mythical existence as this thing from yesteryear … but in reality it’s a relatively modest market. It’s a very attractive market. It’s not that one that we want to ignore. My observation is that the market there is 100 percent inbound.”

A Call to Action

Tisch ended his opening remarks by imploring the industry to work with policymakers in Washington, voice their support of improved infrastructure improvements, and support Brand USA.

“For years and years, we fought hard to get a seat at the table,” Tisch said. “Now it’s time to use our position: To protect the gains we’ve made. To seize the opportunities that lie ahead. And to launch travel on its next phase of growth.”

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Understanding the Qatar Ban and Its Implications for Qatar Airways

Michael Probst  / Associated Press

A Qatar Airways flight coming from Doha, Qatar, approaches the gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Michael Probst / Associated Press

Skift Take: The Qatar diplomatic ban is a nightmare for Qatar airways. Its routings and market share will undoubtedly suffer in the near and medium term.

— Colin Nagy

In a seismic move a block of Gulf states and other Arab have cut all ties with the nation of Qatar.

As of Monday morning, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Maldives severed their relationships. They accuse the oil rich gulf state of supporting terrorism and, through these diplomatic moves, have opened up one of the biggest political and trade rifts imaginable in the Arab world.

The geopolitical context is simple: Following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the gulf states are circling the wagons on Iran, and this move seeks to isolate Qatar to force serious policy and leadership changes.

But what does this mean for travel and tourism?

A recent analyst note from geopolitical analysts Eurasia Group, stated, “The crisis will undermine the Qatari economy, increase inflation, raise the risk of a credit ratings downgrade, curtail regional banking activity, and damage Qatar Airways’ commercial prospects.”

In the near-term, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Etihad Airways and Dubai’s Emirates Airline and Flydubai have cut all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice. Qatar Airways has posted on its website it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.

The airlines are saying little publicly, but on Monday, the CEO of IATA, a global airline industry group, called on sides to put away their differences and reopen links between the countries.

“Our industry depends on open borders so we would like the borders to be reopened to travel and trade, the sooner the better, ” IATA’s Alexandre de Juniac said in Cancun, where the group is holding its annual meeting.

Qatar Airways market position

At a deeper level, this means that Qatar airways will no longer be able to fly to Europe and the U.S. through Saudi and Egyptian airspace.

Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa Director of Eurasia Group, told Skift: “Qatar Airways will need to adjust its business strategy to face the fact that its routes to Europe can no longer fly over Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The airline’s profitability will take a direct hit as new routes through Iran and Turkey will include longer journeys and lower demand.”

This means longer trip times, more inefficient routings, increased fuel costs and compromised ticket sales.

Also, the lack of connecting flights into Doha will be suffocating for a nation that is trying to position itself as a business hub, as well as bolster tourism in advance of its World Cup in 2022.

The incredibly lucrative market of flights connecting Europe and the U.S. to Asia is now up for grabs. Emirates and Etihad stand to benefit in the near and medium terms and this could bolster their bottom lines in the midst of a rough market for the carriers.


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Trump Unveils Plan to Privatize U.S. Air-Traffic Control


President Trump’s plan to roll the current air-traffic control system into a new non-profit private enterprise has gained plaudits from the airline industry. An airport control room is pictured here. Bloomberg

Skift Take: In theory, privatized air-traffic control in the U.S. could be a big win for both consumers and airlines alike. But given the dysfunction of the current administration, one has to wonder whether an effective replacement for the current system will ever emerge.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Donald Trump on Monday unveiled his proposal to hand over control of the U.S. air-traffic control system to a non-profit corporation as he kicked off a week-long push for his infrastructure plan.

The proposal, designed to lower costs and improve efficiency of the system that oversees flights, would transfer about 15,000 controllers and thousands of other managers and technical workers to a new government-sanctioned corporation.

In an attempt to gain support for a plan that fell short in Congress last year, the White House said the 13-member board of directors for the new corporation should be made up of appointees from industry stakeholder groups. Critics had charged the proposal last year gave too much power to airlines.

The plan is part of the White House’s goal to transform U.S. infrastructure. Later this week Trump is expected to travel to Ohio to garner support for his strategy — a key campaign promise — to channel $1 trillion into the nation’s roads, bridges, inland waterways and other public facilities.

The proposal is also designed to shrink government and reduce taxes, said DJ Gribbin, a special assistant to the president who gave a briefing on the plan Monday morning.

“All of those elements line up very nicely with the president’s view” of how to run government, Gribbin said.

Democratic Opposition

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement blasting the Trump infrastructure plan, saying it would impose “tolls from one end of America to the other.” The focus on privatization will lead to “less construction and far fewer jobs,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump’s air-traffic control proposal will be based largely on legislation introduced in 2016 by Representative Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, according to a White House official.

Trump will sign a decision memo, and a letter to Congress on the principles in his air-traffic control plan at the White House Monday. It would create a new user fee on aircraft using the system to replace current taxes on aviation fuel and airline tickets.

Critics of the air-traffic plan have said it would jeopardize small airports by giving too much power to airlines and large hubs.

NextGen or Not?

While the Federal Aviation Administration is already years into a technology upgrade known as NextGen, the efficiency improvements it promises can be better accomplished outside of direct government control, say backers of the White House plan. The FAA would continue to monitor safety and write air-traffic regulations under the plan.

Most airlines, which have favored the idea for more than a decade, cheered the proposal.

American Airlines Group Inc., the world’s largest carrier, said it looked forward to working with the Trump administration “to make air travel cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

“The antiquated system we rely on today is inefficient and causes thousands of avoidable flight delays,” Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for American, said in an emailed statement. “If we aren’t able to modernize and innovate using the latest technology, the impacts to the traveling public will continue to grow.”

Some former high-level FAA managers also favor the privatization plan, which is opposed by many Democratic lawmakers and private-aviation groups. The opponents say the current system works well, and they fear the transition would be a setback to the introduction of new technology.

About 60 countries, including Canada and the U.K., have gone to similar semi-private management of their air-traffic networks.

Infrastructure Tour

On Wednesday, Trump plans to visit Cincinnati, located on the Ohio River on the border with Kentucky. The event will highlight the locks, dams and other elements of the inland waterways system crucial for moving agricultural products and other goods. The key principles of Trump’s plan, released May 23, called for a fee on commercial navigation to finance future capital investments.

On Thursday, Trump will host governors and mayors at the White House for a bipartisan listening session.

Trump plans to finish the week at the Department of Transportation offices in Washington to discuss its efforts to streamline the regulatory approval and permitting process for road and rail projects. Approvals that can take 10 years should be done in two years or less, Trump administration officials have said, and the White House has convened a task force of 16 agencies to examine policies, rules and laws that should be targeted to speed up the process.

–With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Trump Faults Justice Department for Weak Travel Ban, Calls for Tougher One

Carolyn Kaster  / Associated Press

President Donald Trump speaks during the Ford’s Theatre Annual Gala at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, June 4, 2017. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

Skift Take: An emergency ruling — one way or the other — on what Trump now considers a too-weak travel ban should be coming from the U.S. Supreme Court within the next few days. Further strategies and everything else will flow from that.

— Dennis Schaal

President Donald Trump is criticizing his own Justice Department for asking the Supreme Court to review a “watered down, politically correct version” of the travel ban he signed in March.

In a series of morning tweets, Trump says the Justice Department “should have stayed” with the first travel ban executive order. Both orders, aimed at temporarily halting entry to the U.S. from a half-dozen Muslim-majority countries, have been blocked by the lower courts.

The March directive narrowed the scope of the original order, which was hastily unveiled during Trump’s first week in office.

Trump says the Justice Department should ask for an “expedited hearing” on the second ban and “seek much tougher version!”

The president has stepped up his calls for implementing the travel ban following the weekend attacks in London.


3:49 a.m.

President Donald Trump says he will do whatever is necessary to protect the United States from a “vile enemy” that he says has waged war on innocents for too long, vowing: “This bloodshed must end, this bloodshed will end.”

Trump commented on the vehicle and knife attack that killed at least seven people in London at the conclusion of a Sunday night fundraiser for Ford’s Theater, scene of one of the most famous acts of bloodshed in American history: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Trump said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May to express America’s “unwavering support” and offer U.S. assistance as the British government works to protect its citizens and bring the guilty to justice.

After more than 20 people were killed in a bomb attack last month at a concert in Manchester, England, Trump condemned the assault as the act of “evil losers” and called on nations to band together to fight terrorism.

This article was from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Wyndham Partners With Caesars on Loyalty Programs

Caesars Entertainment

Wyndham Rewards has formed a loyalty partnership Caesars Entertainment’s Total Rewards program. Caesars Entertainment

Skift Take: Yet again, Wyndham Rewards isn’t missing out on any chance to capitalize on the opportunities opening up in the pending integration of SPG with Marriott Rewards.

— Deanna Ting

Wyndham Rewards has partnered with Caesars Entertainment’s Total Rewards program to form a new loyalty partnership whereby members of their respective programs receive status matching and by the end of summer, the ability to earn, redeem, and transfer points.

The immediate status match for Platinum and Diamond-level members of both loyalty programs is an expansion of a feature in Caesars’ Total Rewards program former partnership with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), which lasted from January 2014 to December 2016.

Eligible members of Wyndham Rewards and Total Rewards can immediately match their status here. Under the SPG agreement, SPG Platinum members received VIP Access status at Caesars. With Wyndham, Platinum and Diamond members of both programs may match to the corresponding level of their non-primary program: Platinum to Platinum, Diamond to Diamond, and Total Rewards Seven Stars equates to Wyndham Rewards Diamond level status.

The SPG-Total Rewards agreement allowed SPG members to have reciprocal points-earning and redemption opportunities at Caesars properties in Nevada, New Jersey, and Louisiana, while Caesars Total Rewards members earned additional points for SPG stays.

As soon as Wyndham’s partnership with Caesars is more finalized later this summer, Wyndham Rewards members can book Caesars properties throughout the U.S. and Canada via Wyndham’s sites and Wyndham Rewards. They can also earn and redeem Wyndham Rewards points for qualified stays at Total Rewards hotels, bid on special hotel, restaurant, and entertainment experiences, and transfer points between the two programs.

“What’s unique about Caesars’ properties is that their brand is really national and not just a Vegas company,” said Noah Brodsky, senior vice president of loyalty and engagement at Wyndham Hotel Group. “We’ve got such a diverse group of members around the U.S. and Canada. We both saw this as a tremendous opportunity for our brands, through loyalty and great new benefits for our customers.”

Total Rewards members can transfer up to 30,000 points per year on a one-to-one basis and use them to book stays at any of Wyndham’s more than 8,000 properties worldwide, or to book experiences available through Wyndham Rewards.

The decision, on both Caesars and Wyndham’s part, to partner together is a smart one given that it gives each hotel’s respective loyalty members access to a wider portfolio of hotels from which to choose, especially when contending with a combined SPG and Marriott Rewards program set to fully integrate by 2018. Wyndham Rewards has 50 million members, and Caesars’ Total Rewards program has 54 million members.

“This is really a perfect match between our two companies,” said Brodsky. “We found there was a really amazing demographic overlap between our guests — folks who love our hotels also love their properties, and there’s a mismatch in our locations. Caesars has a lot of spectacular inventory in high-demand locations and they are a perfect place for our members to earn and redeem when they go to Vegas, Atlantic City, and California where Caesars has properties.”

“Total Rewards continues to set the standard for loyalty within gaming and entertainment, and we’re always looking for likeminded partners to elevate member benefits,” said Michael Marino, senior vice president and chief experience officer for Caesars Entertainment in a statement. “With Wyndham Rewards, we’re giving our members access to an unparalleled portfolio of hotels, condos and homes and a fast track to elevated status with one of the world’s premier rewards programs.”

Loyalty experts had expected Caesars to find a new hotel partner after its SPG agreement ended on Dec. 31. Caesars’ Total Rewards program also has agreements with Norwegian Cruise Line and with Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. Hyatt’s World of Hyatt loyalty program has a similar agreement with MGM Resorts’ M life Rewards program that includes points earning and redemption opportunities and status matching for elite members.

Caesars’ Marino said he sees more hospitality loyalty programs evolving in terms of their redemption options going forward. “We’ve always been revenue-based and now you’re seeing the airlines do that,” he said, in reference to the gaming loyalty programs such as Total Rewards and its peers. “We reward you differently based on how much you spend with us, but in terms of redemption options, the industry is moving away from that punch card model and we realize people want to redeem for other things, like backstage access, exclusive dinners, etc. We want to give people more access to entertainment and different amenities as we move from being a ‘gaming’ company to an entertainment company. That’s the direction everyone is going in.”

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Wyndham Launches a New Independent Lifestyle Brand: Trademark Hotel Collection

Wyndham Hotel Group

A promotional image from Wyndham, with an image of the Trademark Hotel Group logo, from the company’s trademark filing. Wyndham Hotel Group

Skift Take: Like everyone else in hospitality, Wyndham finally has its own soft brand collection to boot.

— Deanna Ting

Wyndham Hotel Group announced a new brand today: Trademark Hotel Collection. The soft-brand collection marks the company’s 19th brand and will consist of independent hotels ranging from three to four stars in ratings.

The company said that, so far, the new brand has more than 50 properties in its pipeline of both existing and new build hotels that are primarily located in urban markets worldwide, except it would not reveal any of the properties involved.

The decision on Wyndham’s part to launch a soft-brand collection was driven by that fact that there’s plenty of opportunity in the market, said Chip Ohlsson, Wyndham Hotel Group’s chief development officer.

“The explosion of soft brands in the last several years has been focused on luxury and upscale hoteliers—with demand still growing at a rate of nearly 20 percent—leaving a market void for independent hoteliers in the upper-midscale segment, the largest segment accounting for 18 percent of rooms in the U.S. Wyndham is the only hotel company positioned to champion upper-midscale-and-above independent hoteliers so they can compete in an ever-changing distribution environment with brand-backed support and guest recognition and loyalty.”

Unlike a “hard” hotel brand like a Wyndham Grand or a Travelodge, a soft-brand collection like Trademark is purposely meant to be a little undefined, and not necessarily beholden to the same strict brand standards as those aforementioned Wyndham brands. For independent hoteliers, the benefits of joining a soft-brand collection give them access to Wyndham’s more than 50 million Wyndham Rewards loyalty program members and the company’s global distribution network of more than 8,000 hotels, without having to sacrifice their properties’ own unique branding and identities.

The name for the collection, said Lisa Checchio, derives from the trademark being “a symbol of character, an emblem of individuality. Trademark isn’t just another brand. It’s a rally cry for independent entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid to make their own mark. The Trademark Hotel Collection is the next step in our mission to flip the script on existing expectations and champion all hoteliers by offering them an independent choice outside of the current luxury and upscale options available.”

Crowded Field

Trademark, however, isn’t the only big soft-brand from a major hotel company that’s targeting that three-to-four-star range, or what’s sometimes referred to as “upscale.” Although soft brand collections originally targeted more luxury hotels, both Trademark and Tapestry Collection by Hilton, which launched in January, are targeting a somewhat lower price point.

Mark Nogal, global head of Hilton’s two soft brand collections, told Skift during the launch of Tapestry in January, “When you look at the segmentation within the hotel business, there are not collection brands within the upscale category. We’re carving out a niche that hasn’t existed. This is an important part of what we do. We’re going to place brands in that perfect sweet spot. When we take a look at our competitors, they are there and we respect what they do. As we looked at the information and research, we realized we were building the first collection specifically designed for the upscale segment.”

For Wyndham, the decision to launch a new brand is a significant one, since the company has, historically, been more acquisitive in its pursuit of brands. Most recently, the company purchased Dazzler and Esplendor, two brands owned by Buenos Aires-based Fen Hotels, and in 2015, it acquired Dolce Hotels and Resorts.

Wyndham’s decision to launch a soft brand is emblematic of a larger push from the hotel industry overall to capture the very large and very fragmented independent hotel market.

Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor with the NYU Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, told Skift that soft brands are where the growth is going forward for hotels when asked about the launch of Tapestry in January.

“The old model of brand uniformity, with the art on the wall being the same in New York City as it is in Honolulu, is being recognized as an old model,” Hanson said. “Growth won’t be in those uniform design and uniform operational models. Growth will be in soft brands and collections with local tastes, preferences, art, culture, and people looking for an experience.”

Ryan Wolkov

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Etihad Will Suspend Flights to Qatar as Gulf State Rift Grows

Etihad Airways

A promotional image of an Etihad Airways plane. The carrier will stop flying to Qatar over a political dispute in the region. Etihad Airways

Skift Take: It is quite rich for Saudi Arabia to claim other states support terrorism. Perhaps now the big three U.S. carriers can stop making equally ironic claims about subsidies and just watch the Gulf carriers fight each other?

— Jason Clampet

The Latest on the Gulf Arab dispute with Qatar (all times local):

9:35 a.m.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad says it is suspending flights to Qatar amid a growing diplomatic rift.

Etihad said on its website Monday its last flights “until further notice” would leave early Tuesday morning.

Etihad gave no reason for the decision. It is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

The airline’s decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Qatar has yet to comment on the growing crisis.

7:10 a.m.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties to Qatar.

The two countries have joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties to Qatar amid a growing Arab diplomatic dispute with the small, gas-rich nation.

Both the UAE and Egypt made the announcement on their state-run news agencies within minutes of each other.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

7 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar and it has pulled all Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia made the announcement via its state-run Saudi Press Agency early Monday. It appeared to be timed in concert with an earlier announcement by Bahrain similarly cutting ties.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

6:50 a.m.

Bahrain says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar amid a deepening rift between Gulf Arab nations.

Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.

The ministry’s statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

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Ryan Wolkov

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Disney Attendance Dips While Harry Potter Keeps Universal Soaring

Scott Smith  / Flickr

Hogwarts castle is shown at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Island of Adventure in Orlando. Universal parks saw big attendance gains in 2016, while Disney parks dropped. Scott Smith / Flickr

Skift Take: Disney executives have said they don’t mind sacrificing some attendance if they’re still making good money. Both of these things happened last year — but the company is still working to drive numbers up in 2017 and the future.

— Hannah Sampson

It was a slightly less crowded — and more expensive — world at Disney parks last year.

The theme park giant saw attendance drop at each of its 11 global locations that were open the previous year, according to the latest worldwide attractions attendance report from the Themed Entertainment Association and the economics practice at engineering firm AECOM.

The 2016 TEA/AECOM Theme Index, released Thursday, also showed a slight drop of 1.1 percent at the top 25 theme parks in the world.

“Following record-setting numbers in 2015, attendance results in 2016 were more modest but still reflective of a healthy, growing industry,” said John Robinett, senior vice president for economics at AECOM. “The major theme park operators continued their positive performance, and most markets saw slow, steady growth, while weather, tourism and political issues contributed to minor declines in others.”

The report is not produced by the theme parks themselves, which do not all publicly release attendance numbers. Most stay away from giving numbers on a park-by-park basis.

With the inclusion of the Shanghai Disney Resort, which opened in June of 2016, the Walt Disney Company saw total attendance nudge up less than one percent to almost 139 million — the largest total by far of any theme park company. Drops were most significant at international parks: Paris Disneyland fell by 14 percent to 8.4 million, while Hong Kong Disneyland dropped 10 percent to 6.1 million. Most U.S. parks dropped by a small amount, less than a percentage point.

Universal Parks and Resorts overall saw attendance increase 5.5 percent to 47 million. The operator continued to benefit from the allure of Harry Potter-themed lands, which are now open at two Orlando parks as well as in Hollywood and Japan. Universal Studios Japan saw numbers increase 4.3 percent to 14.5 million, while Universal Studios in Orlando jumped 4.3 percent to nearly 10 million, Islands of Adventure in Orlando was up 6.5 percent to 9.3 million, and Universal Studios Hollywood leapt almost 14 percent to 8 million.

Martin Lewison, a professor of management at Farmingdale State College who studies the theme park industry, said in an email that Harry Potter remains powerful, but Universal has another star in the wings. Universal announced a plan last year to build Nintendo-themed areas in Japan, California, and Orlando.

“The Harry Potter magic continues to do wonders where it pops up (California, Japan), but it does peter out eventually, so the arms race will have to continue with new [intellectual property],” Lewison said. “The next big gun in Universal’s back pocket is Super Nintendo World with some kind of Mario Kart racing ride.”

Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said the jumps in attendance reflect the investment Universal has done in improving its parks — which has, in turn, prompted Disney to spend significantly on new attractions. Universal opened a new water park in Orlando last month, while Disney added a land built around the Avatar franchise at its Animal Kingdom park at the same time.

“We as an industry and they as companies are in the biggest arnaments war that we’ve ever seen in the industry, throwing capital at the market right and left, hundreds of millions and billions of dollars really just between those two companies,” Speigel said.

He added: “I think we’re going to see 10 more years of just incredible capital expansion by both Disney and Universal.”

Representatives from Universal and Disney did not respond to questions from Skift. In a statement to The New York Times, Disney talked about its ongoing efforts to bring visitors in: “We are investing behind the wealth of great franchises we have in order to deliver magical experiences that exceed our guests’ expectations.”

In addition to Pandora — The World of Avatar, Disney is building new lands based on Star Wars and Toy Story at parks in Florida and California.

Lewison said that the “waiting game for new attractions…depresses attendance before major new attractions open.” Potential Disney visitors might have been holding back last year in order to visit once construction was over and new rides were open.

The company also made changes to pricing strategies that executives knew would likely impact attendance — not that they minded.

In early 2016, the operator started charging different prices for various times of year, charging more for the highest peak times and setting lower prices during slower periods.

“We like the steps that we’ve taken in terms of pricing,” Disney CEO Robert Iger said during an earnings call in May. “We’ve made a number of steps to essentially grow revenue, in some cases actually at the expense of some attendance where we’re changing our pricing approach sometimes in part to moderate attendance so the park experience is a little bit better.”

During fiscal 2016, which ended Oct. 1, revenue for the parks and resorts segment grew 5 percent to nearly $17 billion.

“They charged more, the crowds were reduced, the guests had a better experience, and Disney made more money,” Speigel said. “At the end of the day, what do you count — people or money?”

Still, he thinks Disney’s Florida parks would have been in positive territory attendance-wise (and Universal might have seen even greater gains) if 2016 had been a more normal year.

“We thought that Orlando would be down a little bit,” Speigel said.

Orlando, the top tourist destination in the country, saw visitor numbers climb 3 percent to more than 68 million despite a mix of negative factors. Tragedies dominated headlines midway through the year after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, the killing of a singer after her concert, and the death of a child who was grabbed by an alligator at a Disney resort.

Economic factors were also at play in large international tourist centers as the U.S. dollar remained strong. Brazil’s economy kept many travelers from that country away and the Brexit vote’s impact on the pound made it more expensive for British tourists to visit. Speigel said the U.S. Presidential election also caused uncertainty that kept tourists from traveling. And Hurricane Matthew forced Orlando parks to shut down for about a day and a half in October.

The other big player in Orlando, SeaWorld, also saw numbers drop. Parent company SeaWorld Entertainment had a drop of 2.1 percent to 22 million; the Orlando park, according to the study, saw an 8 percent decline to 4.4 million. While the company reports overall annual attendance — it’s 2016 totals were in line with the TEA report — SeaWorld does not break down specifics for each park.

In a statement, SeaWorld said that the figures in the TEA/AECOM report are “estimates and not based on actual numbers.” The annual report says it uses publicly available data and attendance figures, asks for data directly, and when information is not available it provides an estimate based on historic trends, park changes, economic conditions, tourism trends, weather, and other factors. Theme parks are able to review and the data and have their say before the figures are published.

Throughout North America, the top 20 parks — from Six Flags Great America at 2.95 million to Magic Kingdom in Orlando with 20.4 million — saw attendance increase 1.2 percent as a group. That’s much slower growth than in 2015, when attendance rose by nearly 6 percent compared to the prior year.

“This lull in attendance growth, especially in the mature, North American market, is part of a complex business picture, where much has been happening and plenty more is on the way,” Brian Sands, AECOM’s vice president for economics in the Americas, said in the report.

Speigel said regional parks also performed well; Six Flags parks reported that attendance increased by 5 percent, and the Cedar Fair group saw a 2.7 percent increase. He believes that’s partly because some U.S. travelers didn’t want to travel to bigger cities.

“As we got deeper into the summer and some of these issues occurred, people just started staying close to their comfort zones, which was home,” he said.

For Disney, mainland China was the highlight. Shanghai Disneyland crossed the 10 million visitor mark last month, less than a year after opening, the company said. Even without that full-year amount — the report says 5.6 million attended in 2016 — the TEA/AECOM report called Shanghai Disneyland’s opening “a watershed event.”

“The park is performing even better than expected and therefore has proven, without a doubt, the depth of opportunity China’s market represents,” the report said. “It demonstrates that the Chinese market will support the price point of a Disney park: Tickets have been selling, and guests have been coming in the millions.”

Ryan Wolkov

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