By Kris Kitto - 01/05/09 06:14 PM EST
Inauguration Week visitors who booked rooms in luxury hotels can expect Neiman Marcus-style pampering, while those at budget hotels can look forward to a more bare-bones experience.
Guests at the sold-out St. Regis Hotel will be lavished with amenities. Women can enjoy an Yves Saint Laurent Beauté “Eye Bar” to help them apply their makeup and eyelashes before they head out to the Inaugural balls. Men can take advantage of a bow-tying service, and everyone will likely be knocking back a few drinks at the complimentary Bloody Mary tastings.
Across town at the Comfort Inn Downtown D.C.-Convention Center, rooms are also sold out but guests get only a flag and parade route information.
At Northeast D.C.’s Howard Johnson Express Inn, Inauguration guests will arrive in the middle of a remodeling project at the hotel, which is replacing carpet, wallpaper, beds, toilets and tiles in its rooms.
They won’t enjoy any special services or gifts, aside from local maps available year-round, and a breakfast bar with two kinds of cereal in addition to bagels, muffins, bread, jams, coffee and juice.
Of course, guests pay about $48,000 more for the four-night Inauguration package at the Ritz-Carlton than at the Howard Johnson.
A general manager, who asked not to be named, said Howard Johnson hotel rooms cost at least $500 per night during Inauguration, more than five times the normal $90-per-night rate during regular season.
People from across the country have forked over wads of cash to stay in strategically located hotels to witness President-rlect Obama’s historic swearing-in. Some will rest their heads at places that will lavish them with exotic foods and spa services every night, while others bunking at lower-budget hotels will get not much more than muffins at the continental breakfast.
The Ritz-Carlton’s Politically Correct Package includes a one-of-a-kind Judith Ripka pendant made from white gold, white diamonds, rubies and blue sapphires; 24-hour-on-call chauffeur service in a luxury hybrid vehicle; a four-night stay in a luxury suite; a Saks Fifth Avenue Inaugural ball outfit; seating for two at the Inaugural Parade; two tickets to one of the official balls; and a private, in-suite dinner for two from West End Bistro celebrity chef Eric Ripert.
The hotel named the package “Politically Correct” partly because guests can direct a portion of the $50,000 price tag to a charity of their choice. Only one package was offered, and it has been sold, according to the hotel.
Among the other hotel offerings:
The St. Regis — in addition to the aforementioned amenities — will have a Manolo Blahnik shoeshine station and Neiman Marcus consultants to help with fashion emergencies, including courier service between the store and hotel for last-minute purchases or alterations. Rooms at the St. Regis start at $845 per night for Inauguration Week.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown is providing guests staying for five nights with a different amenity each night, including in-suite spa treatments; an autographed cookbook from Michael Mina, the celebrity chef of the hotel’s new restaurant, Bourbon Steak; and a picture of one of the city’s monuments, shot and signed by local photographer Jake McGuire. Rooms at the sold-out Four Seasons went for $895 and $15,000 per night with a five-night minimum stay.
The Mayflower Hotel has a $51,000, three-night package in the presidential suite. It includes limo service from arrival to departure; his and hers signature Inaugural jewelry from the neighborhood jewelry store, the Tiny Jewel Box; Dom Perignon champagne with toasting flutes from Tiffany & Co.; an in-room massage for two; 24-hour butler service; special Inaugural food such as petit fors designed by the hotel’s pastry team; and Burberry accessories.
Managers at many of the budget hotels said they hadn’t yet decided on any special amenities for their Inaugural guests. Some said they weren’t doing anything other than “business as usual.” Vending machines are on the premises, some budget hotel managers said.
Miguel Gonzalez, a general manager at the Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., said his hotel will have Inauguration schedules and Metro maps available at the front desk. He has also arranged for guests to get special discounts at the nearby Tesoro restaurant and Sips Café and is still working on getting them special editions of The Washington Times.
Gonzalez said he doesn’t think his guests will be able to enjoy much more than those few perks.
“Tell you what, they won’t have time to do much,” he said, predicting that the big crowds and numerous Inaugural events will likely keep guests out of their hotel rooms for most of time they’re here. “We might not see any of those people after they check in.”
Rooms at the Days Inn cost in the “mid-300s” during Inauguration Week, Gonzalez said, when they would otherwise go in the “upper 100s” this time of year. He said hotel managers decided to keep prices low so guests would “come back and remember” them.
Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said Gonzalez and his colleagues have the right idea. Because hotel-room demand is so high for Inauguration Week, hotels could forgo extra gifts and amenities, he said. But many view it as an investment toward future business.
“You want to make sure the guest walks away … saying, ‘Boy, I had a great time,’ ” McInerney said, “so that they become your ambassador out there.”
Some of the most extravagant hotel packages, valued at $50,000 and above, are often offered merely for hype, he said — “I don’t think there’s a lot of takers on those” — but they do help hotels attract “the best people” as guests.
Besides, McInerney said, people’s hopes for their hotel stays usually correlate with the cachet the hotel name carries. “Their expectation level is different from staying at the Four Seasons than staying at the Days Inn,” he said.
McInerney also said that, while Washington-area hotels benefit from extra revenue, they’ll incur extra expenses, like tighter security and accommodations for staff members staying on property because of road closures and anticipated delays in public transportation.
Surprises of all kinds are in store for the city’s Inauguration hotel guests. Liliana Baldassari, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons, said the hotel is keeping its final-night’s amenity a secret, revealing only that it “will incorporate President-elect Obama and his hometown of Chicago.”
Howard Johnson patrons, meanwhile, could be sleeping in the middle of a construction zone during Inauguration Week. The Howard Johnson manager confessed that the hotel’s remodeling likely won’t be done in time.
Nevertheless, he pledged ultimate customer service.
“We want to give the guests our best,” he said.