Would you like to see where Marla Maples threw her $250,000 engagement ring and high heels at Donald Trump while screaming, “I’ll never marry you!”? How about taking a peek inside the Benjamin, the posh bar in the Trump International Hotel where wine is served by the spoonful for anywhere from $15 to $140 a taste?
As the Jan. 20 inauguration draws near, a historian and author is banking that people will pay up to $685 for a private guided tour of these locations and others on his new Trump Tour of Washington, D.C. Bill Thomas is selling a custom tour package that takes guests in a chauffeured limousine (for the full Trump experience), and swings by places such as the Russian Embassy (and nearby FBI listening post), and the swanky Georgetown and Kalorama neighborhoods where many of Trump appointees will likely live. Pricing for the tour starts at $465 for two people.
Along the way, Thomas, the founder of Private Tours of Washington, and his guides explain how Trump fits — and doesn’t fit — into U.S. presidential history.
“There have been good politicians in the past, and there have been savvy politicians that had interesting, compelling campaigns,” said Thomas, a former journalist and author of “Capital Confidential: One Hundred Years of Sex, Scandal, and Secrets in Washington, D.C.” “But the enthusiasm in this campaign was unbelievable. With all these things combined, a tour seemed natural. There’s enough curiosity, obviously. It will be interesting to see how many people show up.”
Despite that enthusiasm around the president-elect, the words “Trump” and “tourism” haven’t always yielded positive results when used in the same sentence. Throughout the summer and fall, occupancy rates fell at Trump-owned hotels as the often contentious campaign raged between Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Just before the election, multiple surveys found that foreign tourists said they would be less likely to visit the United States if Trump became president, and travel prognosticators claimed foreign visitors would cancel trips or change their final destination to Canada. But Jason Clampet, editor-in-chief and cofounder of the travel industry website Skift, said he thinks there is a large base of tourists who will be interested in Thomas’s private Trump Tour.
“There are crowds that have been coming to Trump Tower in New York City since the election, and even before the election, to get a touch of Trump,” Clampet said. “There is a desire among people to be around it. I think we in the media probably underplay it, but lot of people really like this guy.”
Trump supporters in D.C. for the inauguration may not be able to afford to stay in his hotel (also, it’s completely booked), but Clampet thinks they would be willing to pony up the cash for the tour. He predicts Trump tours will eventually show up in New York City as well.
“There is an aspirational element to Trump’s personality and the whole persona of Trump where people are like, ‘Hey, if I was rich, I could behave like that. I could put gold over everything.’ I think a tour like this is something people would max out their credit cards to do,” he said.
Clampet is right about interest in Trump. Tourists with political leanings are also signing up for another, far less aspirational Trump tour being offered in Atlantic City. Donald Trump’s Gambling Heritage Tour looks at the history of Trump’s former casinos on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and how they shaped the city. The tour is $16 and runs through Inauguration Day. It will resume in the summer.
“Hillary Clinton held a rally in early July in front of the Trump Plaza Casino,” said Levi Fox, a Ph.D. student and historian who runs the Trump Gambling Heritage Tour. “That was an iconic moment for me in realizing the way in which a place could play a role in telling the story of Donald Trump.”
Fox is also looking at starting a Trump Museum that would bring together artifacts from the four Trump casinos — Trump Plaza, Trump’s Castle (later Trump Marina), the Trump Taj Mahal, and the short-lived Trump World’s Fair — that still tower over the seaside community. He said his intentions are historical, not political. In the early 1990s, Trump’s casinos employed 12,700 people — nearly one-third of Atlantic City’s entire casino workforce. Trump is no longer involved with the casinos. All but one of the casinos has closed.
“Obviously it’s very controversial,” he said. “I’ve gotten opinions from multiple sides whether a museum is appropriate.”
If the project comes to fruition, he hopes the museum will tell the history of gambling and Atlantic City. At one time Trump Taj Mahal was the tallest building in New Jersey. It closed in October after years of labor disputes, bankruptcies, and charges of money laundering.
“This is what we know, and this is how Atlantic City plays a role in Mr. Trump’s larger economic career,” Fox said. “It’s about what Mr. Trump’s history in Atlantic City might indicate about the entire country, if this city is any indicator.”
The Washington, D.C., Trump Tour is a bit more glamorous than its Atlantic City counterpart. While the Trump Gambling Heritage Tour looks at the economics of how the Boardwalk crumbled, Thomas’s tour focuses more on the history and egos of Washington.
“Washington is really a show business town,” Thomas said. “Politics is the highest level of show business. We’re always looking for ways to exploit that and make it interesting for people. Although you don’t have to do much to make Washington interesting, that’s the best part.”
Thomas said he doesn’t have to do much to make our soon-to-be-president interesting either.
“A lot of the tour is putting the new president into context and perspective,” Thomas said. “He’s the most self-promoting person, maybe in the world. He’s definitely one of the most self-promoting people to ever run for president. How will that translate? Does it mean lots of parties and state dinners? How much glitz will he bring to Washington? I think we’re all excited to see how this drama unfolds.”
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and on Instagram @Chris_Muther.