Trump’s four-day visit last weekend caused more than $250,000 in lost revenue from fuel sales and landing fees, according to a dossier released this week by county aviation officials, mostly at Palm Beach international airport, where Air Force One lands and departs.
At Lantana general aviation airport, inside the 30-mile flight restriction zone around Mar-a-Lago imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, all operations cease during presidential visits. Jonathan Miller, chief executive of airport operator Stellar Aviation, said the repeated groundings, including training and sightseeing flights, are forcing several Lantana tenants to consider their futures. Palm Beach Aircraft Services estimates losses could reach $2m a year and several private plane owners have already switched to other airports, Miller said.
“When [the president’s] here for three days we lose at least $30,000. Our small businesses can’t survive, they’ll either shut down or leave,” said Miller, who added that more than 400 people work at the airport.
“People will just say I’m not going to stay in the Palm Beaches, I don’t need the aggravation. It’s going to grind our economy to a halt,” said Jeff Greene, a hotel owner who says that he has already lost bookings from prospective guests at his upmarket Tideline Ocean Resort and Spa further south along Ocean Boulevard from Trump’s waterfront estate.
“And basically the opportunities in a town like this are exactly the times he’s planning on being here, Christmas, New Year, Presidents’ weekend, Easter and all these other weekends, like last weekend and this coming weekend. In our hotel we depend on February and March to make 50% of our annual profit.”
While hoteliers such as Greene are unable to yet put a dollar figure on their expected losses, Palm Beach County’s airports, flight schools and other aviation-related businesses are already counting the cost.
While the airports’ losses grow, Palm Beach is also seeking relief for security costs to protect Trump, including policing of demonstrations. About 3,000 people took part in a peaceful protest at Mar-a-Lago last weekend and another is planned for Sunday.
The Palm Beach sheriff’s office did not respond to the Guardian’s request for cost details of last weekend’s visit, or Trump’s extended Christmas and New Year break at Mar-a-Lago, but its overtime bill alone topped $250,000 for the then president-elect’s short Thanksgiving sojourn.
“Back in the 1960s John F Kennedy was here but it was a different town then, much smaller and quieter,” said Laurel Baker, a longtime Palm Beach resident and executive director of the town’s chamber of commerce.
Baker said tourists had always come to gawk at the Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maseratis parked outside the upscale jewellery and fashion stores along Worth Avenue, but the challenge now is turning Trump’s notoriety into financial gain for the island’s business owners.
“People want to see the winter White House but they’re drive-bys, which is a terrible word to use, but that’s what it is,” she said. “It’s all well and good, but it doesn’t help unless they also stop for a bite to eat.”
There are, of course, no such worries inside Mar-a-Lago, where the opulent dining room is full every dinnertime when Trump is in residence, and the non-refundable membership fee doubled to $200,000 within weeks of his election victory.