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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Many Presidents but Few Presidential Suites

NEW YORK -- When explaining who ended up in which presidential suite and who wanted the soap that had to be imported from France, Brian Honan was as diplomatic as the diplomats from the countries whose leaders he is putting up this week.

Name the countries? Of course not.

"Country A, Country B and Country C," said Honan, the director of marketing for the Four Seasons Hotel on East 57th Street.

With more than 170 heads of state and government converging on New York this week for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, Honan has mastered the peculiar art of New York hotel diplomacy. It involves more than the usual tight-lipped discretion as far as the outside world goes, and more than the usual obsequiousness as far as the VIP guests go.

While everyday New Yorkers are worrying about everyday gridlock, those schooled in hotel diplomacy are worrying about limousine gridlock and security types with sleeves they talk into. Hotel diplomacy involves checking with other hotel executives to find out about the little things world leaders like -- the soap, for example. Honan heard about that from his counterpart at the Georges V in Paris, where the leader of Country A stayed recently.

Sometimes, too, hotel diplomacy involves nail-biting and improvisation. If the guest in the presidential suite has not checked out by the time the president of Country A arrives, the sign above the door that says "presidential suite" can always be unscrewed and moved to whatever room is available.

Fortunately for Honan, the Four Seasons has two presidential suites, and a royal suite.

The Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, across from the UN, has only one presidential suite. But Kevin Breen, its director of sales, said, diplomatically, that there were several other large suites that would not disappoint a head of state.

And then there is the Waldorf Towers, with its 26 presidential suites, also all booked. The Waldorf takes hotel diplomacy so seriously that it has a director of diplomatic relations, Marina Jiang. Jiang, who was born in Shanghai and educated in Vienna, has already seen to it that half a dozen suites were repainted in colors intended to please this week's guests. She will also see to it that the flowers in the suite of Chinese President Hu Jintao are red, not white. To the Chinese, she said, red is a sign of happiness and white is a sign of death.

When she realized that U.S. President George W. Bush, President Vladimir Putin and Hu would be staying at the Waldorf at the same time, she said, the notion that another chapter in the hotel's storied history was being written "gave me chills."

Other hotel-industry types are having chills for a different reason: the supply-and-demand headaches that this week presents. There are too many presidential heads and not enough presidential beds.

"Everyone is asking for favors, for special consideration," said Bjorn Hanson, a hotel industry consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. "It can be a nightmare throughout a hotel organization, because the guest arrives at the front desk, maybe knowing in advance there will not be a suite available, and demands a suite, and goes to the front office manager, who has to try to explain, and it gets kicked up through the organization.

"What will happen, daily, is that the general manager or the director of sales or the representative that deals with that account -- the embassy here -- will get the call: 'Have you had any cancellations?'"

Hanson estimated that 70 percent of what he called the "most desired" hotels in Manhattan will be 95 percent full for the next couple of weeks. PricewaterhouseCoopers' estimate for the year is an occupancy rate of 82.5 percent, 3.9 percent above last year and the highest since 2000.

That could mean problems for Honan. He has known what to look forward to since last spring, when Country A sent someone to look at the presidential suite. The Four Seasons' presidential suites are on the 51st floor of the 52-story hotel. One faces north and has a view of Central Park. The other faces south. It looks out on the costume-party helmet of the Chrysler Building and the pencil-point mast of the Empire State Building, and it has a Steinway grand piano in the living room. And the royal suite? It is on a lower floor, but is larger, with three bedrooms, as opposed to one for each presidential suite. It also has a terrace.

Honan said Country A's representative viewed all three. "What he wanted was a three-bedroom presidential suite with a view of Central Park and grand piano," Honan recalled. "We said, 'We can't do that in one unit.'"

The representative decided to forgo the piano, the terrace and the extra bedrooms, he said, and reserved the presidential suite with the view of the park. Country B, the second to call, took the other presidential suite. That left the royal suite for Country C.

And the soap? Warned by the Georges V that Country A's leader wanted Ex Voto soap, Honan had his staff scour Bergdorf Goodman. They found Ex Voto candles but no Ex Voto soap. He called Paris, and the Georges V sent enough to last the summit.