A sprawling lobby and bar with only a handful of people. Confused guests asking where everybody went. Elegant, but empty hallways. These are the scenes CNN observed inside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, this month as the once-humming destination confronts a new reality without its namesake in the White House.
The hotel had opened to much fanfare just months before former President Donald Trump took office, and quickly became a draw for Trump loyalists and insiders throughout his tenure.
“I mean, we were very busy,” Shawn Matijevich, the former executive chef at the hotel’s steak restaurant, explained to CNN. “With so many every day, you know it almost got overwhelming at times — how many VIP’s and members of our government that you know are making headlines are all together in the same place.”
But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — which has impacted the entire hotel industry — paired with Trump’s exit from office, now appear to be taking a significant toll on the place Trump once dubbed “one of the great hotels of the world.”
One hotel staffer told CNN this month, “Since the coronavirus we weren’t doing so bad until I’d say probably a month ago. It really, like, slowed down.”
“It’s normal during this time of year to have this kind of slow down, but because of everything going on, it kind of really had — a different time.”
Indoor restaurants and bars in Washington are limited to 25% capacity or 250 people total, whichever is smaller. The nation’s capital had paused all indoor dining in December as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations surged.
On a recent Friday night, CNN observed around 30 customers in the hotel’s bar and lounge area over a three-hour span. But the main elevators were only used a handful of times, signaling that not many were staying overnight.
The halls of the hotel appeared mostly lifeless around 7:00 p.m. ET.
The following morning, hotel staff and Trump’s then-impeachment defense team were some of the only people populating the vast lobby. No one had breakfast in the lounge for a span more than an hour before two men came in.
“Where is everyone?” one of the men asked. The waiter slightly threw up his hands, as if to express uncertainty.
Asked about the hotel’s current occupancy and revenue numbers, Eric Trump, who runs day-to-day operations of the family real estate empire, praised the hotel in a statement without providing any specific figures.
“Our location is unrivaled and we are incredibly proud to have the best hotel in our nation’s capital,” he said.
During a separate CNN visit to the hotel, just a handful of people were present in the lobby over multiple hours.
But even before Trump left office and his role in the US Capitol insurrection brought further complications to his businesses, the pandemic was putting considerable strain on Trump Organization properties worldwide.
Hotels and other hospitality companies, which form a substantial part of Trump’s business empire, have been hit especially hard during the outbreak as travelers stay home and governments impose lockdowns.
Trump’s final financial disclosure as President showed sales at the Washington hotel plummeted by 63% last year compared with 2019, when the Trump Organization was considering selling it. And those figures are not unique to Trump’s hotel. Data from the hospitality analytics company STR shows that business for luxury hotels in Washington has spiraled across the board.
Jan Freitag, senior vice president of Lodging Insights at STR, told CNN that in 2019, occupancy at high-end hotels in downtown DC was 73%.
“So basically, one-in-four rooms was empty,” Freitag said. “Today, four-in-five rooms are empty.”
But the former President’s loyal following could still provide some meaningful avenues for revenue moving forward. Room rates reviewed by CNN indicate the hotel could be looking to capitalize on a stream of business from supporters who follow the unhinged QAnon conspiracy theory and believe Trump will be sworn back into office on March 4.
While a standard room can be usually booked for around $500, according to a review of the hotel’s website, a room on March 4 costs around $1,300. The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple inquiries about whether the price surge was related to QAnon’s March 4 conspiracy.
Still, the price hike underscores the draw that the former President can still command, even if he’s no longer down the road at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“God bless Donald Trump. I mean, what else can you do?” one woman recently told CNN unprompted in the hotel’s lobby. “We come here and we support him.”