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