On the Plane

Hotel Tab for President's Entourage Is No Joke

KIEV, Ukraine -- It turned out not to be an April Fool's joke. And if anything, the joke is on us. Not only did the Radisson here jack up the rates for the traveling White House party, so did the Hyatt, where Bush, his top aides and the handful of journalists in the pool that sticks close to the president stayed the night.

In fact, one member of the press pool got a bill for $1,849 for one night's stay, not even counting room service. Given that the pool of reporters did not even get to the Hyatt until around midnight last night and checked out by 7 a.m. today to leave with the president again, that worked out to about $264 an hour.

The president's hotel often can be more expensive than the hotel where the rest of the media and staff stay because the White House and Secret Service sometimes clear out the entire building for security. But even so, an informal survey of White House press corps veterans who have been covering presidents for decades found no one who remembered rates as exorbitant as those charged here in Ukraine.

It's unclear why that happened. One commenter on our earlier blog posting suggested the Radisson was trying to recoup money lost last year when the White House supposedly booked the hotel and canceled just a day before a scheduled arrival. It's true that the White House has considered traveling to Ukraine before and scrubbed the plans, though certainly not the day before a supposed visit since none was ever actually formally scheduled. But a U.S. official involved in travel logistics said it is possible that the hotels jacked up the rates to make up for a previously canceled trip.

While all this may just seem like whining, the gouging in Kyiv is an example of why many financially pinched news organizations are no longer traveling with the president. And it may not be the worst example this year. Bush has five more overseas trips planned for the rest of the year, including one to China this summer for the Olympics. The hotel in Beijing tried to charge the White House staff and press for 21 nights in August, even though the president and his entourage will stay just a few days. The White House has negotiated the minimum charge down to seven nights, but even that will mean thousands of dollars per person.

"The price inflation when the White House comes to town is unbearable," said Ann Compton of ABC News, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association. "And the Summer Olympics promises to be a nightmare."

-- Peter Baker

Bush in Eastern Europe: Video -- Bush Pushes Ukraine's Membership in NATO

By Eric Pianin |  April 1, 2008; 12:44 PM ET  | Trip:  Bush in Eastern Europe, April 2008
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to Peter Baker: u r right the last year visit was FORMALY not scheduled but there was many unofficial dates - it all was depending on stupid parliament and coalition crisis in Ukraine. Please stop scary people with those rates; it is fair to note that all those high class hotels owned by Western companies, so dont blame Ukrainians!!!Please write more about wonderful Kyiv, kind people, good food, concentrate on russian pressure and wired Ukrainian politicians who have no idea of how to properly handle neither international nor domestic affairs of Ukraine...

Posted by: from Kiev with love | April 2, 2008 2:40 AM

Thanks again for the note. No one blamed Ukrainians for what the Radisson and Hyatt charged. But the rates are definitely scary.

Posted by: Peter Baker | April 2, 2008 4:26 AM

Major kudos to Peter Baker for replying to people in his comment section. Now that's going the extra mile to give a personal service!

Posted by: OD | April 2, 2008 11:01 AM

Please remember that you are talking about President Bush, not just some guy named bush. Even if you don't respect the man, please respect the office. I know that is difficult after the last 15 years, but do it anyway.

Posted by: Rod | April 2, 2008 7:05 PM

Love to the Great Ukranian People who STOPPED the NAZI push southwards in the Great Patriotic War and DENIED THEM the Oil of the Caucasus - and SHAME on the International privately -owned hotel chains!

To the Ukranian People and their great Rodina - Pодина:
Please join NATO, we in USA and ALL of NATO will welcome you with bread and salt! Join NATO for PEACE! Мир!

We have NOT FORGOTTEN the Battle of KURSK! PEACE -Мир- MIR!
to all of the World... and Ukrania!

Posted by: Jack Aubrey | April 3, 2008 1:11 AM

I understand what you mean Rod, and like many others in U.S. Government service and the US Military, I have sworn a lifelong Binding Personal Oath to "Protect and defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, Foreign and DOMESTIC". Bush has done nothing but spit on our Constitutional values ever since he assumed office, and never ceases his attempts to suborn the Judiciary AND the Legislative Branch to HIS *very* personal political powers - as well as pretty much destroy ALL our Fourth Amendment rights, with Unconstitutional, judicially unregulated NSA/CIA/FBI/ Internet, banking, and telephone surveillance of US Citizens - all by secret "Executive Orders and illegal "signing statements" for which there is NO lawful American precedent.

Mr. Baker might find it worth commenting on that Bush's despicable conduct in Iraq and in managing our Foreign Relations with Russia and our European NATO Allies has caused NATO leaders to REFUSE pre-membership NATO status to the Ukraine and Georgia at this time. See:

Posted by: Jack Aubrey | April 4, 2008 8:18 PM

Contrary to above discussion, the hotels in question are owned by Ukrainians business groups. Major hotel chains like Radisson and Hyatt are franchise systems. Locals pay fees to brand the hotels and have to follow detailed corporate standards. The Hyatt is apparently owned by the blandly named "Industrial Group," part of the mighty Donbass empire. Standards of ethics and transparency in Ukrainian business are not always the highest, and Kiev has been happier to gouge the few visitors it does get than to aim to attract more -- as of 2007 the city did not even have a tourist office!

Posted by: Thomas Haigh | April 6, 2008 3:15 AM

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