George Canakis had arrived in
Brussels the night before, ready to do business. Egyptian-born and
raised in Greece, Canakis now lives in London and travels to
Southeast Asia negotiating hotel deals for American Express.
Brussels is not a
big market for Amex -- it contracts with less than a dozen hotels
in Belgium. But in some regards, a small portfolio like this one
makes his life difficult. Add a hotel in Paris, it can be easily
absorbed, but should he find a hotel he likes in Brussels, hell
likely have to drop some other property. He needs rooms for Travel
Impressions, for gold and platinum card members and unaffiliated
agencies that look to Amex as a wholesaler. He needs something for
everyone, but if he signs up too many hotels, the 1,000 or so
travelers Amex sends to Belgium each year will be diluted among too
many properties, and his negotiating position will be
In the morning, he
visits two properties, and the first, the Manos Premier Hotel,
impresses him. It offers a good location, a large garden in the
back, a restaurant with a good reputation and -- quite unexpected
-- an atmospheric hammam (Turkish bath) in the basement.
Standing in the
bar, he imagines a couple sitting, not wanting to be disturbed.
This is a place for special occasions, he thinks. It all comes
together nicely here.
The rates seem
reasonable. The one thing gnawing at him is the TV in the room. It
should be concealed, but its a small thing in the final analysis.
He will contact the owners. If an allocation deal is struck, hell
have time to think about which hotel to replace.
The business, he
knows, keeps changing. After the first Gulf War, Amex stopped
producing motorcoach brochures. Now, groups are done on an ad-hoc
basis. He doesnt even bother asking for group rates in the initial
negotiation. What kind of rate could he get for a hypothetical
group? Call back when youve got 50 people and a date in mind, then
youll have an interesting conversation.
Then theres the
Internet. Anyone can book a hotel. You can no longer talk to
clients about just the property. You need to talk about options.
Sure, theyll ask for ideas, but people want to be in charge of
their trip. In some ways, all thats different is now youre planning
for a group of two.
Its almost 1 p.m.
as Canakis enters the hall where the Flanders Travel Forum, a
regional trade show, is being held. Almost all the Belgian
properties with which he has contracts will be there.
A quick walk of the
floor -- where is everyone? He heads to where sandwiches are laid
out and sees his contact from Rezidor SAS. The focus of their
conversation is soccer -- Canakis is a Liverpool fan, a choice not
unrelated to being a Beatles fan -- but eventually he works in
questions about Rezidors expansion.
For Canakis, this
show is primarily about maintenance, to say hello to contacts and,
given the high churn in sales positions, to meet any new sales
managers who have come on the scene. But hes eager to meet with the
GM of a hotel who sent him an image for a brochure -- and then
complained that he didnt like the image. It will likely be resolved
quickly but needs attention. At the booth, he discovers the GM is
not present. Will he be at the party tonight? he asks.
He walks the floor
methodically. When he visits a contact, he appears to be simply
socializing. Talking about friends in common. Always finding a
reason to thank them, and then -- as if an afterthought -- he leans
in a bit, lowers his voice and says, I need some special offers.
Something. Four nights for three. A free dinner.
If theres any
resistance, he patiently explains that people are looking at these
things closely. It started in the U.S., but now its a worldwide
trend. It works for people, he says with a shrug. Sometimes a
bottle of wine will sway a customer from one property to another.
Just a bottle of wine! So you see, its important.
The request is
offered as avuncular advice, Canakis careful never to overtly
suggest hes a rich uncle who could cut you out of the will. He
believes -- he knows -- the relationship is front and center. He
may need to pick up the phone on behalf of a client and call one of
the people hes speaking with today and say, I have a problem. He
needs a friend on the other end of the line.
Finally, its 3
P.M., and hes finished. He sits down for a beer, and surveys the
scene. Everyone is happy, himself included.