What is a presidential suite and why do hotels have them?

The history of hospitality's most lavish accommodation

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For most of us, hotel guest rooms are suitable enough, but for the elite – from celebrities to heads of state and other VIPs – nothing but the best will do.

That's where the presidential suite comes in. It's usually the most luxurious, expensive and grandest accommodation option a hotel has to offer – fit for a president.

But does it actually have anything to do with politics?

The history of the presidential suite

There seemingly isn't much to the history of the presidential suite. Wikipedia (bear with us) says it gained its name during the Woodrow Wilson presidency (1913-1921) because on each of his trips away from Washington, he would insist on having a hotel room conform to specific requirements.

The free online encyclopaedia also says that in the US these suites have all since adhered to these traditions – that they must be south facing in the Northern Hemisphere and north facing in the Southern Hemisphere; that they must have an en suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe.

It is not clear where the editor of this page got that information from, however, and any other publication using this backstory appears to have taken it from Wikipedia.

Elsewhere, Bill Fawcett, author of Oval Office Oddities: An Irreverent Collection of Presidential Follies and Foibles, told NBC News that the term came from the European tradition of royal suites.

“We didn’t have royals, so we called the best room in the house the presidential suite. A president doesn’t have to stay there, and many [hotels] may never have had one stay there.”

There is such a thing as “Washington Slept Here” signs, though, which accurately indicate where George Washington stayed when he travelled to unify the 13 colonies, meeting local leaders, businessmen and townspeople as he went. These were probably small houses and inns, however, and nothing like the lavish presidential suites we see today.

Why do hotels have presidential suites?

The business case behind offering presidential suites is compelling, says Andrea Grigg, global head of hotel asset management for CBRE Hotels, on HotelManagement.net.

It is the most opulent accommodation offered by hotels, and brands commonly only have one or two suites at this level in a property. “These suites capture the most discerning luxury travellers and are a key differentiator when targeting the high-rated international guest segment,” Grigg writes.

These are for a niche clientele – celebrities, heads of state, chief executives and other high-net-worth individuals – but they can be lucrative due to the high average daily rates.

Several factors differentiate a presidential from a regular suite. These include residential features, privacy, security, state-of-the-art technology and entertainment systems, and 24-hour butler and housekeeping services.

Have any presidents stayed in these suites?

Of course, there are famous suites where world leaders have laid their heads. In New York, for example, the Waldorf Astoria boasts that every president since Herbert Hoover has slept in its presidential suite, which features four bedrooms, a formal dining room, living room and even items donated by former US leaders.

George H W Bush stayed in The Jefferson, Washington DC, during his inauguration, while Dwight Eisenhower spent the summer of 1955 in Denver's The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, which has also hosted Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

In Mexico City, the InterContinental Presidente has three suites that regularly host world-renowned VIPs, including former US president Barack Obama when he was in office.

Are they only available in the Americas?

Presidential suites have become a trend around the world. The Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice, for example, has a particularly famous presidential suite that's said to be the Italian city's largest and highest. It features two floors with a private hot tub, showers with scented water, a private gym and 44 windows from which to admire the lagoons below.

Some hotels might even have multiple classes of lavish suites with different decor styles. For example, a property may have a presidential suite and a royal suite, with the latter featuring an opulent interior, while the former is more modern.

Burj Al Arab in Dubai has a two-bedroom presidential suite that's set over two floors offering sea views and a host of added services. The duplex is adorned in gold, featuring velvet footrests and golden lampshades. There are two expansive master bathrooms with full-sized hot tubs and a separate five-head rain shower. There is also a separate dressing room and private library within the suite.

The UAE city's “seven-star”, sail-shaped hotel also has a Royal Suite, but currently that's only open for public tours. This palatial-style two-bedroom suite features a majlis, library and cinema room, as well as a private dining area for 12 people, a kitchen where a private chef prepares all meals and an in-suite lift, all housed under a 24k gold-plated ceiling.

Are there other types of suites that are just as luxurious?

The name of the class of suites very much depends on the hotel – there are no set rules.

For example, Raffles London at The OWO, which recently opened after a six-year transformation of Britain's Old War Office, has Heritage Suites. These are former offices of influential political and military leaders, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Sir Richard Haldane.

A number of these are available for exclusive reservations, such as The Whitehall Wing – a six-bedroom residence occupying the west wing of the building that can accommodate up to 12 guests.

It's one of the largest luxury hotel wings available in London, so it is likely that it plays host to the elite, be it presidents, prime ministers or royal family members.

Updated: December 27, 2023, 2:20 PM