Holiday Inn - the official hotel provider to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games - is determined that all athletes will receive world class service during their stay at the Olympic Village so they can focus fully on their preparation for the Games. Janet Harmer reports on the countdown to the opening of the UK's largest ever temporary hotel operation
With just nine weeks to go before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, nearly the full complement of senior staff is in place to run the athletes' accommodation.
For the first time in the history of the Olympics, the Olympic Village - where nearly 16,000 athletes and officials will stay throughout the duration of the Olympic Games and 7,200 during the Paralympic Games - will be run along the lines of a hotel, as opposed to a university campus. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) wanted to create an efficient and comfortable hotel experience for the athletes and, as a result, Holiday Inn was signed up as the first hotel sponsor at an Olympics and Paralympics.
From the outset, Holiday Inn - the largest brand within InterContinental Hotels (IHG) - has been involved in planning the operation of the Village, alongside LOCOG.
"We've provided LOCOG with standard hotel information they wouldn't have otherwise thought about," explains Chris Hale, head of London 2012 for IHG.
"For instance, we've advised that black-out blinds should be installed in all the bedrooms - something which is standard in our hotels. With athletes competing at all times of the day and evening, some may need to sleep in until 12 noon and black-out blinds will enable them to do this." Other features include bed extensions for the taller athletes.
IHG is providing 90 of its staff to form the key managerial team which will run the Village, alongside LOCOG staff. Since January, 13 of them who are fulfilling the role of residential service leads - in effect general manger - of each accommodation block, have been in place, with 12 located in Stratford and one in Weymouth, where the sailing events are taking place.
In recent months, the remainder of the IHG staff, including 30 service managers, 42 concierge staff and five in the Welcome Centre, have been arriving at the Village, with all 90 in their new roles by early next month. Half of the IHG staff are British, with the rest coming from within the company's 4,400 hotels in 90 countries around the world. All have been selected for their multi-lingual experience - they speak 14 languages between them - as well as their passion for London 2012 and eagerness to work at the Olympic Village.
A key role of the IHG staff is the training of the 8,000 volunteers - using an introductory version of the company's Stay Real manual - who will be working throughout the Village. The intention will be to provide the warmest of welcomes and provide an environment where the athletes can relax and be themselves.
"Our number one principle is to look after the athletes as if they were guests in our hotels and we have to ensure that the volunteers will be able to do that," says Hale. "For instance, a volunteer might be tempted to ask Usain Bolt for an autograph, something that trained hotel staff would know not to do."
Hales says IHG will not be managing the housekeeping or F&B operations in the Village, but will be the "go-to-people" for all other accommodation needs. "If an athlete needs his towels changed, has a maintenance issue with a bathroom or needs tips on what to do in London, we will resolve those issues," he says.
OLYMPIC VILLAGE - THE ACCOMMODATION
During the Olympic Games, up to 16,000 athletes and officials will be accommodated in 12 blocks, each built around communal squares and courtyards with water features.
The block in Weymouth will host 600 athletes, while the blocks in Stratford will each accommodate between 500 and 1,900 people.
There are no kitchens in the apartments as the main food and beverage outlet will be in a central dining room, serving up to 5,000 covers at a time and operated by Aramark.
Following the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on 12 August, the Village will be rebranded and made suitable for the 7,200 athletes and officials arriving for the Paralympics, which start on 29 August.
HOLIDAY INN - HOSTING THE TORCH RELAY AND PREPARING FOR OLYMPIC VISITORS
Dozens of Holiday Inn hotels throughout the UK are currently feeding and accommodating the main entourage for most of the 70-day Olympic Torch Relay.
"There are some locations we can't help with - such as in the Welsh countryside and Scottish highlands, as we have no hotels there," says Hale.
The 300-strong entourage comprises police, security staff, sponsors and the media. "With six Metropolitan police officers running alongside the torch for around 30 miles a day, we are ensuring they are being well-fed with carbohydrate-rich meals," says Hale.
Out of a total of 8,000 torchbearers, 72 are extraordinary members of staff from IHG hotels around the world. They include Annette Ablitt who, as well as working full-time as a financial controller at the Holiday Inn Portsmouth, is also the carer to her partner and father of her two children, a sufferer of Huntington's disease, and leads the hotel's charity drive, having raised nearly £9,000 for Whizz Kidz and Naomi House.
Meanwhile, staff at 40 Holiday Inn hotels in and around London are ready to welcome the mix of officials, sports federations, media delegations, athletes' families and spectators staying with them throughout the Games. "They are already well-trained, but there have been given additional training in specific areas such as security," says Hale.
While London is used to a high number of international visitors, Holiday Inn will be ensuring Olympic guests receive the best service by moving staff between its hotels, according to the languages they speak. So, for instance, Russian-speaking staff will transfer to the hotel where the Russian broadcast delegation will be staying.
Ramadan, which this year runs from 20 July to 18 August - encompassing the whole of the Olympics - provides an added challenge, with the hotels having to provide pre-sunrise and post-sunset dining options.
SPOTLIGHT ON MILOS CEROVIC, RESIDENTIAL SERVICE LEAD, OLYMPIC VILLAGE
Assistant general manger at the InterContinental, Budapest, and a member of the Yugoslavian Olympic swimming team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
As a former Olympian himself, Milos Cerovic knows how important a good night's sleep is to an athlete's performance and he believes that Holiday Inn has put everything in place to ensure this will happen.
"We have worked closely with the Athletes Committee, chaired by Jonathan Edwards, to make sure everyone who stays with us gets everything they need," he says. "Having front desk staff and concierges in place will help enormously."
Cerovic, who speaks Serbian, English and French, took up his current role on 1 February and will remain there until mid-September.
"I'm now looking forward to making sure that London 2012 will be the best Olympics ever from the athletes' experience and seeing the sportsmen and women leave the Village with a smile on their faces," he says.
Our Profiting from 2012 Business Tracker series is published in association with ACT Clean and People 1st
By Janet Harmer
E-mail your comments to Janet Harmer here.
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Catererandhotelkeeper.com jobs
Blogs on Catererandhotelkeeper.com
Catch up with more news and gossip on all Caterer's blogs
For the latest hospitality news, sign up for our E-newsletters
Featured video - for more, visit Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s YouTube channel >>