Hosting the President is no easy feat, what with the intense security detail, special requests, and busy schedule to maintain. But Philip Wood has played host to dozens of heads of state at hotels around the world, from the Four Seasons to Rosewood and Orient Express Hotels, and Forte's Exclusive Hotels of the World. Today, he serves as managing director of The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Obama's No. 1 fund-raising spot in the city. Wood has agreed to sit down with us and dish the dirt on what it's like to care for the most important person in the world.
What's the strangest part about hosting the President, or other political bigwigs?
It's all about security. But when it's really high-profile, it's taken out of our hands. They close an entire wing of the hotel, plus the rooms directly above and below. They've got security on the roof, in the lobby, everywhere. Everything is swept by dogs, and about two dozen staffers get cleared by security, though only a handful actually have direct contact. We give those cleared staffers lapel pins to identify themselves to security. But every country has their own method.
What do you mean?
For example, when I was working in Jamaica in the 1970s, there was a time when, over the course of three days, we had lunches or dinners for had 36 heads of state, and eight stayed at the hotel. [Former Tanzanian President] Dr. [Julius] Nyerere was so security conscious that his staff would watch our room attendants make the beds and cut open pieces of soap to ensure nothing was inside. He would never leave even his room without having at least six bodyguards with him. But then, Pierre Trudeau from Canada would wander around the property on his own.
How much notice do you typically receive from these types of high-security guests?
If they're staying at the hotel, they generally come to us about two or three months in advance. But if it's for dinner, it's usually just a day or two. Spontaneity acts as a security measure; if nobody knows you're coming, nobody can plan an attack.
What's it like working with so many security details?
These guys would stop a bullet for their man, but nobody ever even asks them if they've had lunch. George H.W. Bush was one of the few I've seen who actually gave his secret service a meal. So, I always make sure they're fed.
I know you hosted President Obama more than 20 times at the Jefferson for fund-raisers. What was that like?
He always come in the back entrance; we decided we need to rename it the "BaRack entrance" he came so often.
When presidents stay at The Jefferson in D.C., the Thomas Jefferson Suite is the obvious choice.
Are there any other secret entrances at the Jefferson?
There are four entrances we use for guests who don't want to be seen. Celebrities are more difficult than politicians, though, because they are hounded by the paparazzi.
Anything you were surprised to learn about hosting Presidents?
They each have their own requirements and preferences, but many require special refrigeration equipment because they have to travel with the President's blood in case something happens. Others require less odd amenities.
The Queen of Denmark is very tall, so when she stays with us, we have to bring in high clothing racks for her gowns. And dietary needs are another big one, though that's more about the protocol for serving. It's a relay system, where we pass the food off to her team.
Have you ever had to turn someone away due to their demands?
It's rare, but since we're a small hotel, we're not the best for groups larger than 30 or those that require intense security, since we don't have bulletproof windows.
So being small can be a bad thing?
Not always. Since we have a small lobby, people can't really wait around trying to spot one of the VIPs. If you're sitting in our lobby for more than a few minutes, we're going to know who you are.
So many special requests...who pays for all of this? Does the hotel comp high-profile guests?
No, never. They pay for all the rooms they need, although sometimes the State Department may pick up part of the cost. And sometimes we just absorb the cost if their request is something we'll use again, like if they request a piece of exercise equipment to be in their room. Others want to bring their own stuff, like Aga Khan, who brought all of his own sheets and towels.
Are they good tippers?
Some are. King Faisal from Saudi Arabia used to give out gold Rolexes instead of cash for tips, and once just left the keys to his Mercedes for his favorite doorman.
Wow! How does the hotel change for the regular guests when someone so high-profile is staying at the property?
Because they're often isolated in a closed off wing, not much changes. The biggest thing is the traffic because we have to close down the streets, so we post managers on the corners to pick guests up when they arrive and bring them inside.
What's one of the most interesting sights you've seen when hosting VIP?
We hosted a Papal visit once and one of the oldest cardinals would start every morning with a giant espresso, brandy, and a cigarette. It made sense once I saw what obscene hours they all worked while they were here. But in their down time, there was lots of pasta and red wine.
-- Kate Parham, Condé Nast Traveler
This story originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler.