It’s no secret that Jerusalem is one of the most politically charged cities in the world. Throughout the year, Israel’s capital serves as a hub for countless weighty political talks, meetings, conventions and memorials. Just outside the gates of the Old City, an elite cluster of five-star hotels have become the defacto hosts for the hundreds of heads of state, members of royalty and dignitaries that descend on Jerusalem each year for political events and diplomatic efforts. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and its various international embassies work with each hotel to ensure that the load is distributed evenly, but over the years many have developed a propensity towards the award-winning David Citadel Hotel, in large part thanks to the personal touch of its longtime General Manager, the esteemed Rodney Sanders. With more than 40 years in hotel management, consultations and operations, Sanders knows better than anyone the delicate art and nuance involved with hosting officials of such significance.
Located just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, The David Citadel is a five-star property offering guests the magnificent views of the Tower of David and the Jaffa Gate. Since its establishment in 1998, the David Citadel Hotel has become the official host of statesmen, politicians and guests of the highest level. The hotel’s seamless ability to layer in its many high-profile guests on top of the everyday operational demands of a high occupancy, five-star hotel, has gained it international recognition, including being selected as one of the top ten hotels in the Middle East according to Condé Nast Traveler and Trip Advisor.
According to Sanders, preparations for the hosting of world leaders can begin as early as one year in advance, depending on the purpose of the visit and the requirements of the visiting dignitary and the various Israeli ministries involved. As an example, meetings took place in September 2019 regarding the arrangements for the events associated with the 75th Anniversary of the Auschwitz Liberation which is happening this month, January 2020. Top officials and representatives from all across the world are set to arrive in Jerusalem for the event, and preparations have been underway for upwards of 18 months. The red carpet is ready to be rolled out.
Often times, it is the security measures that require the most intense preparations. Working closely with various Israeli security teams as well as those of the visiting dignitary, the David Citadel’s security department is trained to provide every imaginable safety measure, offering guests their sacred peace of mind. Sometimes, entire floors are cleared for a single person. Other times, surveillance equipment is installed outside the suite to ensure that there are “eyes” on the room. Security officials and bodyguards are often provided their own adjoining suites to maintain proximity.
This is not just a safety issue, it’s also a matter of privacy. Many visiting world leaders can spark an interest from the public – both negative or positive depending on the news of the day. More often than not, VIPs don’t want their visit to become public information. Occasionally Sanders and his staff are asked to sign Non Disclosure Agreements, although most of the time, their teams trust the professionality and security of the hotel staff, which is highly trained in the art of discretion.
The David Citadel offers a range of suites, and during instances where the hotel is hosting multiple VIPs, Sanders has the delicate task of determining who will reside where, according to each of their preferences and priorities. “We offer seven signature suites including the royal suite and two presidential suites, for which the majority are accompanied by picturesque views of Jerusalem’s Old City,” says Sanders. “Thankfully, we are able to cater to the needs of multiple VIPs at once.” Sanders added that the hotel’s large public areas, including its ballrooms and function rooms, make it so each can have their own private meetings, without ever encountering one another, if that be their wish.
Dining is another area where Sanders notes an inundation of special requests. Typically, VIPs will send over special “riders” before their stay, indicating any dietary preferences and sensitivities, as well as which products they like stocked in their room. While some, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sanders describes as “simple meat and potatoes guys” who are happy to order right off the menu, others are decidedly more particular. Sanders recalls representatives from more far-flung destinations requesting exotic produce whose names they’d never even heard.
Many professional politicians who spend their lives on the road put a huge emphasis on comfort, as a way of recreating their own sense of home while traveling. Over the course of his tenure, Sanders recalls requests for special blackout shades to be installed to combat light sensitivity, or for a bed to be raised 10 degrees. Some have requested the addition of a certain style of furniture, or asked for doors to be removed between suites to create a sense of spaciousness and allow for even more light.
A common request made by visiting dignitaries who spend a lot of time traveling is for health equipment to be fitted into their room. Condoleeza Rice, as an example, would always request a treadmill in her suite. Others prefer working from the fitness facilities, but often require a completely closed-door session.
Factoring in room service, drivers, additional security and other amenities, world leaders can run up considerably high tabs, even for the briefest of stays. But Rodney Sanders tells us that the special requests of his everyday clientele and those of the visiting dignitaries are considered no differently. Each visiting guest at The David Citadel is met with the utmost respect and gratitude for their business.