|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 30, 2008 - TRUMP EXEC USES PERSONALIZED CARE TO BUILD CUSTOMER BASE: Steve Shalit decided to go into the hotel business after a ski trip to Vail, Colo. The Michigan native, who was taking a sabbatical from school, thought the Rocky Mountains might be a nice place to live.
Shalit returned to Michigan State University, earned a degree in hotel management, and embarked on a more than 30-year career in the hotel business. Jobs have taken him to Hawaii, South Florida, Southern California, Dallas, Detroit, Cincinnati and Las Vegas.
However, Shalit has never worked in Colorado.
"I made the decision that's where I really wanted to live," Shalit said. "It just didn't happen."
Shalit's latest task is to oversee the hotel aspect of the Trump International Hotel & Tower, Donald Trump's $1.2 billion condominium and hotel project just off the Strip. He joined Trump International during the construction phase almost two years ago.
Trump International, which opened at the end of March, has 1,282 studio, one-bedroom and penthouse suites. But until condo sales are finalized, the inventory fluctuates. On average, the hotel has 250 units available for guests daily. Donald Trump's 61st floor penthouse is not available.
Trump International carries some of the Strip's highest single-night room rates, starting at almost $350 a night.
"We have a look and feel of a New York condominium high-rise," Shalit said.
Unlike the hotel properties he managed for the Starwood, Westin and St. Regis brands, Trump International is a condominium-hotel, where full-time residents intermix with overnight guests. Also, unlike other Strip resorts, Trump International does not have a casino.
"You can enjoy every element and benefit of the Strip, and then retreat back to our serenity and luxury," Shalit said.
Shalit has seen the hotel industry change throughout his career, progressing toward customer experience and attention. Competition has also increased.
Trump International in Las Vegas is the founding hotel in the Trump Collection, a luxury hotel brand that has plans for properties in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, Florida, Hawaii, Toronto, Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Scotland and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
QUESTION: What attracts the hotel customer to Trump International?
ANSWER: The name on the building draws interest because people come to expect an ultra sense of luxury associated with Trump. We hope we're getting guests through word-of-mouth because we are trying to create repeat business. Our goal is to turn the customer into a lifelong customer.
Q: Where are you finding a lot of your customers?
A: We're marketing to the Southern California region, Northern California, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast -- the typical Las Vegas feeder markets. A lot of Trump users will follow and support the Trump brand.
Q: What changes have you witnessed in the hotel industry?
A: Over the last 10 to 15 years hotels have tried to personalize attention and services. Look at the focus on beds and bed comfort. We're in the comfort business, yet beds weren't really addressed by the industry and made special until about 10 years ago.
At the end of the day, you hope someone remembers your name and remembers something special about you. If you're treated with a personalized attention that we all crave, you'll never leave.
Q: Have you met some of the Trump International residents?
A: We have a couple of full-time residents and a lot of our unit owners want to experience the property. Some use their units as second homes and others put their units into the hotel reservation system. My inventory changes daily. My inventory will always be fluid.
Q: What has changed since you arrived?
A: We're now a hotel. For three years, the condo piece was the real estate piece that launched everything. Now that we are open, a person who buys a guest room is buying a hotel room, certainly one that is upgraded with a full kitchen. My world is now that of a hotel operator and marketer in a place that has condominium rules.
Q: After your involvement in the construction side, was it a challenge to move back into hotel operations?
A: I'm pleased to report it's like riding a bike. It was three years since I had to deal with the hotel side, the travel market and the economy.
Q: Are there challenges operating without a casino?
A: It comes down to hotel rates, the restaurant and spa. Our sources of revenue are much different from a casino and we need to get the guest to come and experience all we have to offer. We're new and 100 percent of our business was trial business. We have had to create an experience for our customers.
Of course, we will get people to the Strip, the casinos, shopping, restaurants and golf. Staying here, you can still experience all of what Las Vegas has to offer.
Q: Do guests come here expecting see Donald Trump?
A: We had a wedding party taking photos in the lobby when Mr. Trump arrived one Saturday afternoon. He had been in Los Angeles, was in golf clothes, and just flown in to attend the (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fight. They asked him to pose for pictures with the wedding party and he graciously jumped right in.
--Name: Steve Shalit.
--Position: Vice President and Managing Director, Trump International Hotel & Tower.
--Family: Wife, Linda, and daughter, Alexa.
--Education: Michigan State University, B.A. in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management, 1975.
--Work history: Began with the Trump International in August 2006. Spent more than 30 years with Starwood, Westin and St. Regis hotel chains with assignments in Detroit; Tulsa, Okla.; Cincinnati; Orange County, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; Hawaii; Dallas; and Fort Lauderdale.
--Hobbies: Golf and reading.
--Favorite book: "Welcome to the Monkey House," by Kurt Vonnegut.
--Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.
--In Las Vegas since: August 2006
The Trump International is at 2000 Fashion Show Drive and can be reached 702-476-7001.
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