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How to prepare a hotel for a royal visit: carefully

The Fairmont Palliser Hotel in Calgary.

The world will be watching every move by William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as they embark on their nine-day trip to Canada, their first official tour as a married couple.

For event coordinators and hotel staff, the planning began months ago. No detail is considered too small - every potential royal need or want has been anticipated. As past royal trips have proven, you must plan for any and every type of emergency - even a power failure.

To wit: At 4:42 p.m. on July 5, 2010, just two hours before last summer's state dinner for the Queen at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York, a breaker at a hydro transformer station burst into flames and the hotel, as well as roughly 250,000 homes, lost power.

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With 400 guests to serve, including the Queen, Prince Philip and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hotel executive chef David Garcelon tried his best to stay calm, he recalls. He called other downtown hotels, but they had lost power as well. With the pressure mounting, Mr. Garcelon finally tried his wife, an instructor at nearby George Brown College. The college had not been affected, so Mr. Garcelon arranged to borrow its kitchen.

In the meantime, Royal York banquet director Lino Rodrigues borrowed a van he saw parked outside the RBC building next door, delivering artwork to a law firm. He then persuaded Toronto police to escort the van - now carrying Alberta beef tenderloin, Prairie barley and mushroom risotto, vegetables and sauces - through rush-hour traffic. Mr. Garcelon and his staff made it back for the 7 p.m. dinner.

"We work together to make sure everything is very smooth," said Melanie Coates, who works in public relations for Fairmont hotels. "Everything is done with precision. It's a stealth operation."

Naturally, Will and Kate's hotel bookings in Calgary and Yellowknife - the two cities where they are not staying in official residences - are shrouded in secrecy. If the past is any indication, the hotels' preparations will be no less rigorous.

The planning process comes down to "months of consecutive meetings with government officials," said Lori Coté, who handles public relations for three Fairmont hotels in Alberta. It involves meetings not only with officials from Britain, but with the federal and the provincial governments, she added.

Invariably, the process adheres to protocol, an elusive term used often and emphatically by bureaucrats and PR types alike to describe a sort of master checklist that staff must study and follow religiously.

For a royal visit, protocol can mean booking an entire floor for the royals themselves and, for security reasons, setting aside rooms above and below them.

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The Royal Suite at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary is situated at the end of a corridor that can be "closed off and controlled quite effectively with a series of outer rooms," said David Woodward, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

Protocol often includes site inspections by government officials, developing a menu, going over special needs, allergies, etiquette and the visitors' itinerary, ensuring that the best staff are on the job, blocking off elevators and assigning someone "red carpet duty."

And, of course, it also means adding a few personal touches. Last July, staff at the Royal York brought in the Queen's preferred toiletries and purchased her a chenille throw, Ms. Coates said. They got hold of an archival photograph of the monarch and one of her beloved corgis, placed it in an antique gold frame and set it on her nightstand. The hotel also gave Prince Philip honey made by the bees in its six rooftop hives.

"Everything can be happening behind the scenes, but the guest is there to turn those moments at our hotel into a wonderful memory," said Ms. Coates.

For hotel managers, just as for Gustave Flaubert and Mies van der Rohe, God is in the details. And for the Fairmont Palliser, as it finishes renovating its Royal Suite, that includes particulars like the brand new Stearns and Foster bed and custom-designed furniture, wall coverings, carpeting, hardwood floors, bathroom and light fixtures.

Although the Palliser cannot confirm or deny if, indeed, the royal couple will stay with them, history is on its side. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) stopped by in 1939; their daughter Queen Elizabeth has paid two visits to the hotel - staying in the Royal Suite in the summer of 1990 - and, most recently, the Palliser hosted Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, in June, 2009.

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Since October, 2010, the hotel has spent $9-million in renovations, including its two Fairmont Gold floors - its "boutique hotel within a hotel." And with an additional $15,000 to $20,000 going toward the Royal Suite, an 800-square-foot apartment with a view of downtown Calgary and glimpses of the Bow River, the Palliser should be fit for a king, or at least the second-in-line.

"You just take this experience one day at a time and ensure that they have a memorable stay," said Ms. Coté. "This is going to be the Duchess's first impression of Canada and we want to make a good one on her, so that they will return in years to come."

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