An unexpected turn

An uneventful private gathering of 150 turns into the centre of attention for more than 600 people on Election Day, pushing the Sheraton Petaling Jaya Hotel to quickly take on crowd control and security measures

Photo by The Star Media

Event brief
An event organiser from the Pakatan Harapan Coalition political party confirmed a booking for the grand ballroom at the new Sheraton Petaling Jaya Hotel just a day prior to their event, which was to take place on the evening and night of the 14th General Election on May 9. The organiser needed the venue for some 150 invited guests to watch live streaming of voting results from polling stations across the country.

Press conference. Photo by The Star Media

What started off as a typical evening at the hotel took a drastic turn after 22.00, when the polling results started to favour the Pakatan Harapan Coalition party over the incumbent Barisan Nasional party which had been the ruling party for the past 60 years.

As the vote counting progressed, it suddenly seemed possible that the Pakatan Harapan coalition might actually win the election and form a new government. With this, well-wishers, supporters and party members started to throng the hotel lobby. Many insisted on entering the grand ballroom to be with party members.

Joining the growing crowd were press members from local and international media organisations although no press briefings were scheduled at the beginning. From just 150 expected guests, the crowd ballooned to around 600. The hotel had a crowd control issue in its hands. The organiser’s own security staff was also outnumbered by the crowd.

Christopher Moore, the hotel general manager, recalled: “As more and more people gathered at the hotel, we heard that party leaders of Pakatan Harapan were also on their way. We knew we had a very important function on our hands with many top politicians joining in.”

More hands were urgently needed on deck, but with election day being a national public holiday, many hotel managers and staff were not at work.

Moore added: “Another challenge was to keep the press away from the ballroom and the proceedings inside. Later, many photographers and film crew stood on our marble table tops and chairs to secure a vantage point during the press conference.

“And when the Coalition leaders arrived, we had to ensure their safety and that their movements were not hampered by the unruly crowd.”

Many staff who were not working on that day were recalled to work that night, and they were given temporary new responsibilities. This included managing the crowd and the media, and to ensure the growing list of requirements of the organiser was taken care of. The hotel also sealed the lifts and escalators leading to the ballroom on the third floor, barring unauthorised personnel.

The hotel security and staff assisted the organiser’s security team in ensuring people who entered the ballroom were legitimate guests.

Moore recalled: “It was a difficult task as some of those who turned up also held titles and insisted that they be let into the ballroom. They claimed to be invited guests but they didn’t have the necessary tags. It was quite challenging!”

To deal with the growing number of members of the press, the hotel chose to contain them in the foyer area, one floor below the grand ballroom.

“We also suggested that the organiser kept them updated on press briefing timings. We believed that would keep the press from getting restless and unruly while they waited,” he explained.

Moore said many of the press members had waited for more than two hours for the press conference to begin, and it finally took place close to midnight. In the meantime, the hotel distributed bottled water and allocated manpower in the foyer area to prevent “the press photographers and film crew from damaging our furniture”.

Key takeaways
Moore said the team spirit of the staff that night was incredible.

“They didn’t mind being recalled to work on a public holiday as they believed they were serving the nation and were being part of history in the making,” he said.

“They worked as a team. Their patience and ability to think on their feet to provide solutions to all the challenges that night was what made this event a success.”

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