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Making a mark

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It’s 8am on a Monday morning and Bill Dunphy is eating breakfast while reading the morning papers. As he lights a cigarette, he seems oblivious to the bustle around him in the Dorchester’s Grill Room.

Dunphy, sales and marketing director for the 180-room Mark hotel in New York, is in London for one of four week-long sales trips to the capital each year.

As the Mark’s number two market (second only to Los Angeles), London is big business for the hotel. With a week’s budget of more than $2,000 (about £1,300), Dunphy will spend what is necessary to woo this market.

Under a barter system, flight expenses are covered by American Airlines which supplies Dunphy with business-class tickets. The Mark then accommodates American Airlines when it hosts events such as facility visits.

While in London, Dunphy uses another barter agreement. He stays at the Dorchester because he’s an old friend of general manager Ricci Obertelli. There’s a reciprocal arrangement for accommodation at the Mark.

Dunphy loves doing business in London. He finds the British polite and straightforward. But he laments what he perceives to be a reluctance in this country to grab commercial opportunities by the horns.

“I find it amazing that the British still have this hang-up about selling. The attitude to marketing is quite incredible. If people don’t begin to market this country and its products properly, there won’t be an England any more,” he says.

First stop is the British-American Chamber of Commerce in Holborn to meet its director of events and membership, Paul Waite.

The idea of this initial call is to see how the Mark can key into this 74-year-old non-profit-making transatlantic business forum which facilitates co-operation between US and UK companies. After amicable chit-chat, the two decide that the Mark will appear in the organisation’s directory for a modest fee.

American Express’s travel office near Piccadilly is the next visit. Account supervisor Lucy Norman is the contact and Dunphy’s brief is to present her with a good visual and factual impression of his property.

Sitting at her desk in the large, open plan office, Dunphy pulls out his neat, collapsible folder containing flattering shots of the Mark and its interior.

Here, as at most of his encounters, he tells the uninitiated that the hotel is one of the grand old dames of New York, that it was once a residential building, that it boasts 60 suites and most rooms offer private kitchen facilities. He adds that there is a free limousine service to Wall Street for its business guests.

As usual he has to point out that New York’s most exclusive hotels are in the Upper East Side, adjacent to Central Park and surrounded by museums such as The Frick Collection and the Guggenheim.

The chain hotels are more concentrated in mid-town Manhattan and nearer the sights.

Norman is clearly unfamiliar with the Mark but is used to such luxury facts being explained to her. She focuses on her priority need which is tariffs.

She reminds Dunphy that in order to qualify for inclusion with Amex Travel Services, room rates must be at least 50 cents lower than the normal corporate rate.

Unfazed, Dunphy counters by presenting her with a set of special rate deals available across the Rafael group of which the Mark is a member. She seems satisfied and is open to Dunphy’s suggestion that he return later in the week to deliver a slide presentation to all her staff.

She agrees, but says it will have to be in the morning, before normal office hours. Without hesitation, Dunphy offers the incentive that he will provide a typical New York breakfast of muffins, bagels and coffee for those who attend.

Dunphy illustrates the differences between New York travel agents and their peers elsewhere: “They are infinitely more sophisticated and knowledgeable than anywhere else. It doesn’t really surprise me that UK agents do not know the Mark in detail because I guess the British business person just says ‘book me a hotel in New York’ and is not specific.”

It’s time for lunch. Dunphy has been invited by a selection of directors’ personal assistants to dine in a private dining room at Morgan Grenfell in the City.

Walking into the building, Dunphy explains that this one company sends the Mark “several hundred room nights every year” and is a highly prized client. In the elegant director’s dining room he is greeted by six women, all of whom help send the Mark this substantial business when their bosses are visiting New York.

But the main topic of conversation over lunch is a trip to the Mark that the personal assistants enjoyed earlier in the year. It’s clear that Dunphy was a good host and now they wish thank his for his hospitality. There is mutual good feeling and it’s clear that this is a strong business relationship.

The next call is at Merrill Lynch, where there is a 20-minute wait before being admitted to its travel office Hogg Robinson which has sent the hotel more than 120 room nights in the first half of 1994.

Assistant manager Indranie Sankar says travel to New York by Merrill Lynch executives is picking up steadily but convenience and proximity to the financial district are priorities.

Dealing with a complaint

However, Sankar says that one top Merrill Lynch executive has complained that a recent stay at the Mark was disappointing because of a poor view, a small room and the lack of a duvet.

Dunphy tries to reassure her that this was a one-off hiccup. Views are available from the hotel’s terraces and part of its attraction is its boutique style which inevitably means it is small. He also points out that at $190 per room (about £124), this agency is enjoying one of the lowest rates going.

As the afternoon draws to a close, Dunphy makes a quick visit to VIP Travel around the corner from the US embassy. But Dunphy admits: “VIP hasn’t given us much of anything so I’ll be able to say whether being here has been of any use.” Checking back with Dunphy some weeks later it appears that his presence did not actually make any difference.

“I would never ascribe a change in the level of business to any one visit but the hope on such trips is that one will hit all the possible influencers likely to provide room nights. To an outsider, such a trip might seem like just a lot of eating and drinking, but it’s actually about building a relationship,” says Dunphy.

This is clearly Dunphy’s forte. Suave and charismatic, his road show is slick and fluent and nobody could accuse him of being an aggressive New York type.

At 8pm, the day ends at Blackfriars, outside the offices of Leading Hotels of the World of which the Mark is also a member.

Dunphy has just presented a slide show to reservations staff from Leading Hotels of the World, and fielded questions on the familiar subject of rates, facilities and New York facts.

His speech remains upbeat and good humoured and perhaps energised by the fact that he is helping to spread the news about the Mark. Moreover, he manages not to look jaded after repetitive questions and 12 hours on the go.

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