Waldorf Astoria Bumps 100+ Guests for Saudi King’s Entourage: What Would You Do If This Were Your Event?

Posted December 16, 2010

On Dec 13, 2010, The New York Times ran a story with the following headline: “The Room Is Booked, Until the Hotel Says It Isn’t”

When I ran my event company we used to do this thing before our big events called “What If” sessions.  Basically, the lead producer would brief the whole office on the event, and we’d all then pepper him or her with “what if . . .” scenarios.

What if the power goes out.  What if someone throws up while at the podium.  What if the guy in the back of the police car for stealing an auction item is your client’s assistant.  What if your keynote speaker is denied entrance to the country by the State Department the day before he’s supposed to fly in.  (All things that have happened to me).

The idea was two-fold: to address scenarios the producer may have missed, and to teach everyone to understand that shit happens at every event and build their confidence to respond to any scenario.

In all the years of anyone in the industry doing this, I guarantee nobody’s ever said, “What if the King of Saudi Arabia shows up unannounced with his entourage and cleans out 100 of the best rooms and suites of our host hotel, bumping our attendees, speakers, executives, mother of the bride, etc.”

Well, that’s pretty much what happened last week at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC.  How crazy is that?  What do you do if that’s on your watch?  That’s pretty much hide-under-the-table time.  Event folks are used to rolling with the punches of unplanned glitches.  But how do you explain this to a client?

I could probably muscle through it if those rooms were needed by the President of the United States making a last minute visit to address the United Nations to avert a war.  Or if the Rolling Stones’ plane has to make an emergency landing and they need a place to stay; I’m pretty sure I could finagle a meet and greet for my client with Mick and company as compensation.  Anything short of that and I’d prefer the hotel simply lie and say they found asbestos on the whole floor.

King Abdullah

At least those are scenarios a client can tell their guests about with some semblance of dignity, and the guests would grumble, but understand.  But the King of Saudi Arabia?  At best, nobody cares about him.  At worst, people hate him for funding all those radical Madrassas that teach kids to hate America.  Either way you ain’t happy.

I don’t know what it is about this story that pisses me off, but it does.  We all have war stories from our events, which we share with each other at industry parties, an

d we wear our ability to weather those storms as a badge of pride.  We teach ourselves and o

ur staffs to fix the problem, deal with blame later, and find solutions.  We don’t get involved in the politics of the thing; we care only about the event and the client.  But this feels like the ugly under-belly of big business and international affairs intruding into our world.

The Waldorf is part of the Hilton family, which was purchased by the private equity firm The Blackstone Group a couple of years ago, and maybe this money-grubbing was

inevitable.  If it makes you feel better, the Waldorf is getting slammed with bad publicity, including high profile blog www.HotelChatter.com, which says the Waldorf did those guests a favor, saying their rooms are dank, dark and have bed bugs.  Yum.  Worse still for them, the Waldorf is no longer the singular NYC property we used to know, but has been spun into a whole line, with properties ranging from Berlin to Shanghai, so the bad press gets multiplied.

Would love to know your thoughts.  How would you have handled this if those 100 rooms were part of your event?

7 COMMENTS

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  1. Howard
    Liene Stevens
    December 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm Permalink

    I realize I may be the exception here, but I’d be excited and I’d try to still finagle a meet and greet. I’ve been lucky enough to have been a guest of the Princess of Brunei in the past and consider it a sheer privilege to be able to have talked with her and have the photo op. The King of Saudi Arabia? Wishful thinking, but he’s one I’d love to meet.

  2. Howard
    Jenn Schancupp
    December 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm Permalink

    Did the hotel compensate them at all? I did not read the article but I would put the onus on them to find a comparable property at no additional cost to the client…

  3. Howard
    Melissa Al-Sabah
    December 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm Permalink

    This post, although subtle, has to be of the most anti-Muslims I’ve read from a creative professional. It seems to be that the issue here, is not merely the fact that the Waldorf-Astoria decided to not accommodate already-booked guests, but instead because it did it as a result of King Abdullah and his entourage. Of course, had the same scenario played with rock gods like the Rolling Stones, Mr. Givner would be a lot more considering with his ranting.

    This isn’t about the Waldorf in New York having contemptible operations management or choosing to ignore the fundamentals of customer service and the value of a hotel guest, it’s about King Abdullah who may not be staid enough for Mr. Givner’s liking.

    P.S. A branch of my family is from Saudi Arabia and none of them hate America.

  4. Howard
    Howard Givner
    December 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm Permalink

    Melissa,
    Thanks for your comments. They were well reasoned and professional. And you are right; while I think the Waldorf’s customer service was severely lacking in this instance, the blog post might have a different tenor if it were someone else who caused the guests to be displaced. That said, what drove me to write the post was the thought of this happening during an event my or any of my readers might have been planning.

    First, please accept my sincere apologies if I’ve crossed the line and inadvertently offended you or your family or countrymen, as that was not my intention. Truly, the piece was not meant to be anti-Muslim in any way. Over the year’s I’ve done events for King Abdullah II of Jordan (Clinton Global Initiative) and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan (United Nations Association), and have worked with clients in Beirut, Egypt, Dubai and many other Muslim countries.

    I studied middle eastern politics in college (many years ago) and tend to follow foreign affairs in general, and my comments related to the Saudi King have to do with how the royal family uses their oil wealth to export the more virulent strains and precepts of the Wahabbi form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Many of the madrassa schools they fund do in fact teach anti-American extremism. I know there are 25 million people in that country, and it is a terrible thing to generalize or stereotype them based on the behavior of their leaders, or a very small segment of criminals (e.g. Bin Laden and Al Queda). I would have the same reaction if the Waldorf bumped those guests for the President of Venezuela who is a Christian, but who also spouts plenty of anti-American vitriol.

    Thanks again for your comment. I hope this response helps clarify my position.

  5. Howard
    JoHnNy
    January 26, 2011 at 12:54 am Permalink

    ((((MAKE SURE YOU ALL READ THIS AS IT HITS THE TRUGTH OF IT ALL))) Well well well, finally a place where the TRUGTH can be told?My Opinions on d matter,,
    It was totally wrong to bump off any guest for any reasons other than it be for the sake of the guest,or say the place was in danger or had something hazordous going on,, OK,,, Now lets get TO D RealOF IT,the hotel probablly did it for publicity, though i think they may have thought it WOULD OF Been Good rather than Bad, but the fact that the hotel disregarded the clients they allready had booked, and all the time that the clients put in to being there for there own personal reasons,& they made a choice 2 b there because they wanted to, not because they had too,. just shows how MONEY HUNGRY,GREEDY,&SELFISH they really are.. this so called KING ABDULLAH is one of the worlds wealthiest people, he allready owns every thing in his country, and im very sure alot over is as well, with all the crooked ((u,no who,s))in oil,gas,etc.. buisnesses,, and even more so.. and not only does he SPIT & Shit on all americans from his country buy funding books,schools,literature on how and why to hate us americans, he also comes over here to do it in our own yard and in our face…DO any of you really think he spends all that money just over there, does he fund things he dont believe or believe in?? i dont think so,. he is obiviously a very smart man, and not the type to just throw away his money on nothig with out a cause,.. SO WHAT WAS HIS CAUSE FOR BEING HERE? WHAT WAS THE HIDEN AGENDA? Saudi arabia is `1/5th of the human race.. about 70%that istaught in schools is taught to hate americans and jews, you can find these facts on any of serveral 1000;s different searches,and yes it is true even as much as 85% of all known people from saudi arabia are proud to say they do not like and even hate america, say it had been some one else? any one else besides a king that comes from a country that promotes the killings and hatered of americans, and probably has some very well hiden agendas,, im sure it may not have been as a big of deal, but you Melissa AL-Sabah got ur apoligies from Howard as he made it overly assured that he isnt predjudice against any race no matter how much they come here and destroy us from with in..

  6. Howard
    Furnished Apartments New York
    January 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm Permalink

    As one of the first ‘grand hotels’ to combine elegance with luxurious amenities and services, The Waldorf Astoria has been world renowned for over a century.Thanks for info.

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