Presidents and heads of state frequently travel around the world in the course of their demanding duties. Consequently, this requires hotel stay. But unlike the ordinary mwananchi, a presidential check-in is not as easy as signing the check-in forms and handing over cash or credit card at the counter.
The meticulous process begins months ahead of the actual visit and is shrouded in secrecy and only confided to a small number of select managers. While a hotel that is lucky to host a president is the envy of the peers in the market (on top of millions of shillings it rakes in from room sales plus elevated status as “a presidential class hotel”) getting it right and making a president comfortable is a daunting task that requires turning the hotel operations upside down.
More so, it is not just the hotel which is turned upside down just to accommodate the wishes of a president, but need I say the visit also brings a city to complete lockdown with devastating consequences to the hotel which is at the butt of torrid abuses from enraged public due to massive traffic jams as a result of roads closure.
Just two weeks ago, Nairobians went literally to the rooftop as they vented frustrations and anger at Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu who was making his maiden visit to the country and African continent in general. So bad was the situation, that the heavily-guarded but cheeky prime minister issued an apology!
But away from the public ceremony, the hand-shaking, 21-gun salute or photo opportunities, there exists complex behind-the-scenes operations involving the hotel management, hosting country’s protocol team and the visiting Head of State team to secure a hotel suitable for a president and his delegates stay.
But getting a safe roof for such a dignitary to spend the night is just one part of the drama. The hotel is literally taken out of the hands of the management by the security agents who keep an eye on all its rooms and the compound. “The hawk-eyed burly men are always perched on rooftops, in the lobby, everywhere.
Everything is swept by blue-eyed dogs, and all staffers get cleared by security,” a career a retired general manager intimated to the Room Service. But what most people do not know is that before a president steps on the red carpet and enjoys the presidential suites and all its trappings, they often see — and smell — garbage from the backyard of a hotel because they are often ushered to the hotel via the back door! Then there is the little matter of the president’s stomach.
What will he eat, prepared how, by who, where and served how? Unlike the general perception out there that presidents wine and dine in delightfully-made hotel cuisine, they hardly do. Always, the president’s staff do rounds in the kitchen where his special food is prepared by hotel chef as security detail pay close attention.
However, in extreme cases and depending on the president and the clout he wields, his private chef takes over as the hotel chefs become mere bystanders! Another revelation from a Food & Beverage Manager in a hotel that has hosted two presidents three years ago: “When we hosted a former African President from an Arab country, his protocol staff required we provide special refrigeration equipment because they intended to travel with his blood group in case something happened to him.
We obliged but they later declined the fridge since it was made in a European country they loved to hate.” More often than not, some Presidential detail can be unnerving.
Last year, when a top city hotel was hosting a retired president from North America, his security detail insisted they use bedding which they had carried and always watched as housekeeping attendants made the beds.
But an incident that shocked a GM who has now retired and works in his small hotel off Thika Superhighway is when security of the said president randomly picked bars of bathing soap in the bathroom and proceeded to cut them into pieces to ensure nothing was hidden inside!”
And ever wondered what happens to the rest of guests booked in a hotel when a president comes calling? “They are either booked out to other hotels or bookings politely cancelled,” said a guest relations manager who once had a rough time when a family on holiday from Russia refused to check out until promised a suite upgrade in another five-star hotel. Says a guest relations manager:
“If a President requires a suite, the hotel and protocol officers of the hosting country will avail it by all means necessary. No is not an answer and even if someone else is booked in it, sorry, he has to give up the room.”
Also, forget about the scenic, panoramic rooms with a city or seaside view that most hotels flaunt and sell for an arm and leg. The president never has a view from his hotel room because windows are always shut and covered with a bulletproof material. According to security agents, a view by the President could also be ended by sniper’s bullet.