The bringing together of Rafael Hotels into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has been sealed, following the group’s annual marketing meeting held in Macau last week. Said group sales and marketing director, Michael Hobson, “We are now firmly one – Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.” And it is a group to watch, he said, as it spreads its fan globally. The combined group now encompasses 19 hotels (20 when it opens Mandarin Oriental, Miami at the end of this year and 21 with Mandarin Oriental, New York in 2003). “Our strategy is to continue towards our near-term vision of 10,000 rooms under management,” Hobson said. “We are now approximately 7,000 rooms under management (previously approximately 5,200), with critical mass across three continents – nine hotels in Asia, seven in America and four in Europe. “I’d say, we are the one to watch.” “We will always try to brand the hotels we manage with the Mandarin Oriental brand where it is appropriate to do so and it is fair to say that there will be discussion on this opportunity with the respective owners of the rest of the portfolio as and when appropriate. “We will not be utilising the name Rafael for these or future properties.” Hobson said customers had an “emotional bond” with the Mandarin brand. “We believe that the legendary quality of experiences received by our customers in our traditional destinations can be ‘cross-fertilised’ into the new Mandarin Oriental destinations. The cultures that existed when the two organisations were separate are remarkably similar and that is built around service. “Our new-found colleagues referred to it as being ‘The art of hospitality’ – we referred to it as ‘delighting our guests’. In essence, we have like-minded individuals across the group and, having just completed one week together during our annual marketing meeting, the enthusiasm for the future together is infectious!” He said the integration has gone smoothly so far. “All of the new hotels are now firmly part of Mandarin Oriental and have been part of an extensive transition plan which includes marketing, communications, sales, operations and finance”. The group is reviewing its sales and marketing set-up. Said Hobson, “Now that we are on our way to building a global brand, with our new found locations in New York, Florida, Munich, Geneva, Salzburg, Bermuda and The Himalayas, there are two issues to consider. “One, does our current structure, ie pre-Rafael, give us the resources in the field to adequately represent these new destinations, including our own, and two, do we need to spread our existing corporate resources to provide the appropriate corporate support around the world?” Hobson said the group had been building up its global sales resources in the past 12 months in anticipation of its growth strategy. “With proprietary sales offices and dedicated sales representation in Los Angeles, New York, South America, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, The Middle East, Hong Kong, the PRC, Singapore and Australia, we feel that all of the major outbound markets are more than adequately covered to respond to the Rafael transaction and more.” To help manage the growth, the group has re-allocated two key individuals to London. In August, Jill Kluge, director of group communications will move to London to run all brand communications matters. Paul Massot, group director of sales, will move to London to continue to head up the worldwide sales function, reporting to Hobson. His responsibilities include all worldwide sales offices in the three operating regions of Americas, Europe and Asia/Pacific. The group is currently recruiting an area director of sales for Asia/Pacific and Hobson anticipates filling that position by the last quarter of this year.