Security, training and follow-through crown best efforts of meeting producers
The five-star Royal Lancaster London will welcome a number of VIP guests for the Coronation of King Charles III. The 411-room property, overlooking Hyde Park, is no stranger to hosting diplomats, royalty, celebrities and heads of state. This historic and solemn event will be a singular challenge for them and other London hoteliers and the special event designers managing every detail.
And, there is a new aspect to the program. For the first time since 1066 when William the Conqueror was crowned in Westminster Abbey, other monarchs will be invited to attend. Crowned heads from Europe and Japan will be on hand. Prior to that, it was a tradition not to invite other royals who might take away the spotlight from the monarch.
The last coronation was 70 years ago—not within the memory of most royal followers. There really is no playbook for this newest version of an ancient rite, which His Majesty has ordered to be simplified and modernized for the pivotal moment in his reign. This is a religious rite as well as a coronation and a sacrament in the Anglican Church.
Today’s London hoteliers will be setting a few precedents, writing a new playbook and bringing that expertise to the creation of new and dynamic events and meetings. The Royal Lancaster London’s General Manager Sally Beck is confident that their multi-national staff, topflight security, exceptional facilities and thorough knowledge of protocol will carry the day.
“Protocol can be very daunting and complex,” notes Beck, who has welcomed a number of VIP guests during her 10-year tenure. “But, coupled with security, it is a key part of making a guest feel safe and appreciated. I know that in America it is more informal but when protocol is ignored or misunderstood, problems can occur, whether the VIP is a public figure, governor, mayor, senator or CEO of a local corporation.”
Following are some lessons from the preparations that could inform any special event planner.
1. Practice Coordination and Confidentiality
The delegation planning to stay at Royal Lancaster London will first meet with the diplomatic and corporate senior sales manager and the safety and security manager prior to the VIP visit. They will also conduct a complete reconnaissance of the hotel.
“To ensure that we maintain the privacy and confidentiality of dignitaries at all times, we treat mission-critical information on a strictly need-to-know basis,” says Beck. “All of our employees in the hotel are provided with information solely related to service expectations for each delegation.”
VIPs generally travel with their own protection teams and the Metropolitan Police Service assigns a team for each. A dedicated hotel security team is on site to help execute the security plan and coordinate all VIP movements.
The same protocol applies to all delegations. However, cultural awareness must be considered and respected within this framework. Flexibility is key.
2. Train Staff Thoroughly
All hotel staff are fully trained on how to provide five-star service and will be fully briefed on special requirements, amenities and cultural and religious preferences. A core team from different departments is dedicated to looking after VIP guests.
Special requirements can vary from requesting certain foods, rooms away from the lifts or on a particular floor, blocking off a whole area or floor of the hotel for security reasons, etc. The team can also arrange for discreet private arrivals for VIPs and high-security individuals.
3. Don’t Get Lost in Translation
While most VIP guests speak English, it is prudent to have a translator present for dealing with the delegation and to ensure there are no misunderstandings and to deal with any emergencies. The Royal Lancaster London has a diverse team with over 40 nationalities, so usually there will be a team member who can assist with this.
4. Arrange for Personalized F&B
Some guests may travel with their own private chef or order-in food from their favorite restaurant or the hotel. It is still important to be aware of cultural or religious dietary requirements. This usually includes offering dishes that do not contain alcohol even though it has been cooked to the point that all alcohol is evaporated. Any alcoholic beverages should be removed from the room.
5. Get the Titles Right
Titles are critical in royal circles and one of King Charles’ first moves was to upgrade the titles of William and Catherine and of his brother Edward. Whether you are dealing with your local Fire Chief or a prominent guest speaker, it is vital to get these titles right. The individual has earned these titles and much offense can be caused if they are incorrect.
Some things to consider: Does the VIP have an Honorable in front of their name and is it spelled out or abbreviated? What letters appear after the name and if they are included, be sure you get the order, spelling and abbreviations right.
6. Fly the Right Flags
At an event, various official flags might be used—the flag of the home country, the flag of the guest delegation and in the U.S., possibly the state flag. Other flags might include a company flag, military banners and the flags of universities or organizations involved. This is another complex issue that can be problematic. Go to the internet for the most current information on this or check with the offices of your congressional representative.
Luckily, there are lots of places to turn for assistance. Embassies and consulates representing the country involved can help. Universities often have a department of security and/or protocol. The U.S. Department of State is an excellent source of information on protocol for foreign dignitaries. The offices of governors, mayors, senators and members of the House of Representatives and members of a state’s Senate or Assembly can also be a great resource. And of course, Ambassador Google is your friend.
Sally Beck, MI, FIH, is general manager at Royal Lancaster London.