“Every year or two, we’ll have someone send in a mattress before they arrive,” said Suzie Sims, director of diplomatic sales for the Ritz-Carlton. “Sometimes they’ll send in furniture and ask us to recreate the personal spaces in their homes on the other side of the world.”
It’s no secret that international visitors and diplomatic delegations are a large source of revenue for Washington’s hospitality industry. Last year, foreign travelers accounted for 10 percent of the District’s visitors, but 27 percent of tourism spending, according to the marketing organization Destination D.C.
The number of international travelers in the area has been rising steadily in recent years, up 31 percent since 2000 and totaling 1.8 million people in 2011, a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish domestic economy — and hotels are increasingly going to great lengths to make sure their clients feel right at home.
“Since Washington is so international, our clients come from all over the world and we want to make them feel comfortable,” said Liliana Baldassari, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons in Georgetown. “Any guest can ask for anything, and we’ll have it for them.”
Muslim guests at the hotel are likely to find prayer rugs, a compass and Koran in their bedrooms. For Japanese travelers, kimonos and tea pots take the place of standard bathrobes and coffee makers. And for other international visitors, there are personalized newspapers and satellite news stations from their home country waiting for them.
“You find out what makes the guests happy,” said Mark Andrew, general manager of the Fairmont in Washington. “And then you exceed their expectations.”
Even Donald Trump is hoping to tap into the area’s large concentration of monied visitors. Earlier this year, he secured rights to redevelop the Old Post Office Pavilion in downtown Washington with plans to turn it into a luxury hotel, complete with the sort of oversized suites that have proven popular with diplomatic missions and foreign guests.
“There isn’t any group that is more sought-after by hotels,” said Vivian Deuschl, an industry expert. “They have a lot of money and they’re willing to spend it.”
Visitors from China
Last year in Washington, there were more visitors from China than from any other country. Hotels have taken note.
The Sofitel in Northwest Washington recently created a Chinese business travelers’ program to accommodate the influx of Asian tourists. The hotel’s staff has received training on Chinese customs, and hotel televisions now broadcast Phoenix InfoNews, a 24-hour, Hong Kong-based news channel.
“Sometimes we set out bowls of oranges and tangerines because they’re a sign of wealth and good luck,” said Pierre-Louis Renou, general manager of the Sofitel. “We have so many Chinese travelers that we started getting China Daily News every Monday to Friday.”