During a recent tour of the most exclusive hotel suites in Washington D.C. we learned how hotels prepare for VIP visits from world leaders, CEOs, and influential media moguls. Oprah Winfrey has made many appearances in the capital to visit the first family for the inauguration and to attend the Kennedy Center Honors. Washington D.C. is a city that knows how to welcome the queen of daytime TV, business magnates, and heads of state from around the world. The Mandarin Oriental, The Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton offer lavish suites to pamper the powerful people who visit Washington D.C.
Prepping for VIPs: It Takes an Army...Or a Security Detail
When asked how the hotel staff prepares for the arrival of a VIP, Mandarin Oriental General Manager Amanda Hyndman leads her team to understand the specific requirements for each guest. The staff confers with their travel agent or butler to find out how the room should be prepared.
With many guests arriving from around the world, we asked Hyndman how the Mandarin Oriental handles caring for guests who speak so many different languages. The staff at the hotel represents 58 countries and many languages, so they can plan accordingly. Last year delegations from China, Thailand and the Ukraine were all met and cared for by staff members who speak their language.
Hyndman tells of times when high-level delegations have sent their security team to the kitchen to help choose a piece of meat then taste it before the meal is sent up to the room. Extreme requests have included 20 vases of gardenias, particular brands of candles, and precise food requests. Recently one musician required a specific set of ingredients for a shake that included kale, broccoli, lettuce and spirulina ready for when he checked into the hotel.
When asked how the Four Seasons prepares for VIPs, Head Concierge Javier Loureiro responds, "Things change. Needs change. Our job is to respond to the changes."
On call 24 hours a day, a hotel butler is the main point of communication between the delegation and our hotel staff. "During a VIP's visit we get very little sleep. Our job is to take care of immediate needs of the VIP at any time of day." When asked about unique requests, Loureiro adds, "Some guests are interested in fast automobiles. One man wanted the hotel to arrange a choice of four to five ultra-luxury cars parked downstairs for him to choose from."
Suzie Sims, director of diplomatic sales at The Ritz-Carlton, emphasizes the importance of a security plan. The Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street has two entrances, required by the Secret Service, including a separate diplomatic entrance. Most teams set up cameras in the hallway and a command post.
Anything a Guest Wants, They've Got It
Some Ritz-Carlton guests have been known to reserve a connecting room to be transformed into a gym, lounge, or formal meeting room. The hotel staff has also transformed adjoining rooms into dressing areas for their butler to iron, steam, and arrange extensive wardrobes. Some guests have arrived with such a large number of suitcases delivered by moving truck, that an extra room was reserved to store the luggage.
Recently, Sims was asked by a VIP to help with a birthday surprise for a guest. Hotel staff got to work pre-dawn to quietly fill the suite with hundreds of balloons while the guest was sleeping in the next room. The staff often gets requests for specific TV channels. Sims remarks, "We bring in a cable guy to reconfigure the channels. There is always a way to make it work." If the President of France wants to watch Bravo, they will make sure the giant TV in his suite has Bravo.
The Ritz-Carlton staff represents more than 30 nationalities. "We need to speak their language and be ready to cook their food. I work closely with the ambassador's protocol office to learn how to communicate with each guest properly and be as culturally sensitive as possible. Since we have Ritz-Carlton hotels throughout the world, we reach out to our colleagues in that country for resources and recipes. We can recreate the club lounge experience from another country."
The Ritz-Carlton Suite, the Presidential Suite at the Mandarin Oriental, and The Royal Suite at the Four Seasons were designed to entice the rich and powerful with the highest level of luxury, service, and security. Now that Oprah has wrapped up the 25 year run of her show, we may see her enjoying the posh hotels of Washington D.C. more often, unless she has already reserved the Lincoln bedroom.