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How hotels accommodate the world’s top sporting stars

Sports teams expect a VIP experience from start to finish. Photo: Getty

Imagine you are the general manager of a top hotel.

Six professional sports teams turn up on a Saturday morning, complete with coaches, support staff and entourage.

As well as looking after the general public, there are now more than a hundred VIP guests relying on you to deliver a premium experience. And they expect it.

So how do hotels cater for the often demanding and specific needs of the world’s top sports teams?

Quite seamlessly, it appears.

Australia has decades of experience hosting major sporting events and, as a result, hotels are now well equipped to look after athletes and their various requirements.

It is a holistic approach that starts well before guests walk through the door.

“There’s lots of preparation and planning,” Erkin Aytekin, general manager of Pullman on the Park in Melbourne, told The New Daily.

“We speak to key coordinators and wellbeing and fitness personnel, as well as dieticians and management teams first.

“Once the groups are finalised and contracted, an assigned officer connects chefs with dieticians, service staff and looks after pre-arrival, so their luggage, equipment, relaxation space, massage and recovery areas are all put in place.

“It’s important to look after them (throughout the whole stay) from pre-arrival, during stay, after the match.

“Some teams want to leave and check out before the game, or sometimes return to hotel after the game.”

Teams can often take up whole levels of rooms to cater for sponsors and executives who might be with the team.

How and why do these top sporting teams keep coming back?

Like their arrangements with sponsors and associations, it is worked out in advance.

Large hotel groups like the Accor Group have contracts with codes or teams.

Three non-Victorian AFL teams regularly stay throughout the year, and a few NRL sides do too.

At the Pullman in Melbourne, female athletes from various codes – commonly basketball and soccer – are frequent guests.

Exercise and recovery

Exercise equipment and rooms are crucial for sporting teams, particularly those who stay in one city for an extended period.

The Sofitel Brisbane Central is a popular choice among sports teams because of its state-of-the-art facilities.

It doesn’t look like a hotel … but it is. Photo: Getty

They boast world-class cardio, strength and conditioning equipment in addition to a multi-use outdoor area and two dual-temperature climate-controlled baths for recovery.

The Sofitel worked with top NRL strength and conditioning coach Alex Corvo, former cricketer Andrew Symonds and Collingwood operations manager Marcus Wagner to design what they call the ‘ELITE Gymnasium’.

And it means that the Sofitel is often booked out months in advance for sporting teams.

“As a hotel, we are proud to have a long tradition of being a ‘home away from home’ for elite athletes and sporting teams,” Sofitel Brisbane Central general manager Hayden Hughes said.

“With this facility, we are aiming to better cater for the very specific needs of our sporting guests, welcoming them to Brisbane and to our hotel, cementing this great city’s reputation as the ‘home of sport’ on a national and international level.”

Food

What athletes eat during their stay at a hotel is also a crucial component for businesses to nail.

If they don’t, they risk athletes being unhappy, tired and potentially performing poorer.

According to Patrice Falantin, the head chef at the Sofitel Brisbane Central, they have a meal package that they offer sporting teams.

But that is very flexible, with teams able to choose dishes off a menu or leave it up to Falantin and his team.

And Falantin, who subscribes to the theory that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, says that athletes are pretty set in their ways about what they want to eat.

“The buffet breakfast is really popular,” he said.

Athletes have to exercise restraint at the buffet. Photo: Getty

“Athletes like to have the freedom to select which kind of food they want for breakfast.

“They can choose different dishes, with chefs making omelettes, scrambled or poached eggs and a large array of hot and cold dishes.

“After breakfast, there’s the option to make your own sandwich and all-day catering [for them], as well as fruits and a fresh juice station.”

Us mere mortals might not be able to contain ourselves at the buffet, but Falantin said athletes have to be careful.

“They are very aware what they have to eat,” he said.

“They can’t rush to the waffles and doughnuts, but they are actually very conscious what they need to eat to have the energy of the day.”

Travelling teams usually eat dinner fairly early, around 6pm, and these meals are kept pretty simple.

“Usually it’s lots of salads, carbs, pasta; nothing too fancy,” he said.

“They tend to go to the Italian style of food like lasagna, white fish or lean chicken.

“Most of the meat is lean. Dessert is something simple like an apple crumble or a pudding.”

Chefs are accustomed to serving meals right through the night too, with A-League and NRL players often relaxing in hotel restaurants after matches.

But AFL teams tend to have private rooms set up for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout their stay.

International sports stars can present more of a challenge.

Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao brought a team of chefs with him to Australia last year when he fought against Jeff Horn.

Pacquiao is one of the biggest names in world sport. Photo: Getty

They were given space in the kitchen and also had access to some of the hotel’s stock.

It is an inclusive and unusual approach, but it was designed to make Pacquiao at ease.

And that is just one way hotels go above and beyond for athletes.

Attention to detail and little touches also go a long way to keeping teams happy.

One particular sports personality loves Cherry Ripes, so there’s always one in his room ready for him.

“We don’t take anyone for granted,” Falantin said.

You can’t when you’ve got to look after sporting royalty.

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