City, Hotels Brace for A Host of Dignitaries
By Debbi Wilgoren and Lena Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 8, 2004; Page A07
Charlie Bellow, chief of diplomatic sales for the Madison Hotel downtown, said his cell phone began ringing late Saturday afternoon and has hardly stopped. By 10 a.m. yesterday, the tony hotel, which specializes in offering secure and comfortable accommodations to heads of state, had booked six delegations of foreign leaders coming to attend the funeral Friday of former president Ronald Reagan. Several others were politely turned away.
At other high-end hotels, the story was the same. The Willard Inter-Continental on Pennsylvania Avenue NW was sold out. Both the West End and the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton were fully booked, and area general manager Paul Westbrook estimated that half the hotels' guests would be in town for the funeral ceremonies. Embassies that called to inquire about rooms were directed to the Ritz-Carlton across the Potomac River in Pentagon City.
As Washington gears up to host its first presidential funeral in more than 30 years, the arrival of foreign dignitaries requires its own set of preparations -- at embassies, the State Department, police headquarters and hotels across the city. Details of who would attend Reagan's funeral were still being worked out yesterday, and officials from the city's top-tier hotels would not say which countries had booked rooms with them.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said at least 20 heads of state are expected. A spokeswoman at the German Embassy said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would be at the funeral, and wire reports from overseas said those in attendance will include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former Japanese prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone -- who referred to Reagan as "Ron" while he was president and was amiably called "Yasu" in return.
Each foreign and U.S. leader brings an entourage and specific security, protocol and personal needs -- many of which are already catalogued in the computerized databases at their favorite hotels.
"We know exactly what they like, how they need to be accommodated and what their special requests are," said Tricia Messerschmitt, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
Concierges across town have begun scouting out newspapers and magazines from the home countries of their foreign visitors, as well as the American periodicals that their databases -- or helpful embassy officials -- tell them these dignitaries like to read, hotel officials said.
Those who are Muslim may be offered prayer rugs and compasses pointing toward Mecca, hotel officials said. Room service will be available, and health clubs can be opened at any time of night for those whose internal clocks have not adjusted to East Coast time. Dignitaries who prefer to exercise in private, some hotel managers said, can have special equipment brought to their rooms.
More senior foreign dignitaries might attend the Reagan funeral than might otherwise be the case because leaders from the world's most industrialized nations will be in Sea Island, Ga., this week for the G-8 Summit, said U.S. State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli.
Schroeder will attend the summit, as will President Bush and the leaders of Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Britain and Russia.
State Department and White House officials were still in the process of formally inviting foreign leaders to the funeral yesterday, officials said. Protocol dictates that the United States must send a diplomatic note -- approved by the White House -- to the chiefs of the more than 170 foreign missions in Washington informing them of the events surrounding the funeral.
Embassies and hotels work closely with U.S. Secret Service, D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies to coordinate security arrangements and to prevent traffic jams of limousines and SUVs outside hotel lobbies.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has declared the funeral a Special Security Event. The Secret Service's Dignitary Protective Division will coordinate 24-hour security for heads of state and their spouses, using special agents from all over the agency, according to spokeswoman Ann Roman.
Some of the hotels' preparations go beyond the needs of the dignitaries who will stay there. Staff at the Willard Inter-Continental will leave cards honoring Reagan's presidency in each guest room when they turn down the beds throughout the month of June, spokeswoman Barbara Bahny said. Patriotic flower displays will be in the lobby, and a flat-screen television will be set up there Friday so guests can watch the funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.
The Ritz-Carlton this week will resurrect Nancy Reagan's chicken salad, a favorite of the first lady.
Ritz-Carlton guests will find small bowls of red, white and blue jellybeans at their bedsides tomorrow and Thursday night and can write their recollections of the president in leather-bound journals in the lobby.
Staff writers Sari Horwitz and Peter Slevin contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company