More commonly, "the red carpet treatment" and "rolling out the red carpet", refer to any special efforts made in the interests of hospitality.
The earliest known reference to walking a red carpet in literature is in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC. When the title character returns from Troy, he is greeted by his vengeful wife Clytemnestra who offers him a red path to walk upon:
"Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path."
Agamemnon, knowing that only Gods walk on such luxury, responds with trepidation:
"I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path."
In 1902, The New York Central Railroad used plush crimson carpets to direct people as they boarded their 20th Century Limited passenger train. This is believed to be the earliest modern use of the "red carpet treatment" as part of ceremony.