August 18, 2017

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Playing in the big leagues

Winnipeg company fills high-end luxury hotel rooms with top-tier clientele

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Magellan Luxury Hotels president Dan Davidson (right) and his wife, Shaleen Davidson, enjoy their time with chef Charlie Palmer.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Magellan Luxury Hotels president Dan Davidson (right) and his wife, Shaleen Davidson, enjoy their time with chef Charlie Palmer.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/4/2016 (489 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A dozen hotel big shots from the Big Apple, along with a Michelin-starred celebrity chef, flew in to Winnipeg this week to schmooze with staff of a Winnipeg company that markets high-end luxury hotel bookings.

A 12-person delegation from some of the swankiest New York hotels were in Winnipeg to pay their respects to Dan Davidson and his staff at Magellan Luxury Hotels.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>New York celebrity chef Charlie Palmer gives a private demonstration of his cooking skills for staff at Magellan Luxury Hotels at the Kitchen Sync Thursday evening.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

New York celebrity chef Charlie Palmer gives a private demonstration of his cooking skills for staff at Magellan Luxury Hotels at the Kitchen Sync Thursday evening.

Thursday night, celebrity chef Charlie Palmer — owner of 14 restaurants including Auroule, the Michelin-star Times Square restaurant as well as three boutique hotels — wasn’t cooking at the Knickerbocker Hotel or the Quin or the WestHouse.

He was cooking for the Magellan staff at the Kitchen Sync in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

The fact the operators of some of New York’s most exclusive hospitality vendors — the general managers of all those hotels made the trip — came to schmooze with Davidson, the company president, and his Winnipeg sales agents says a lot about the role Magellan plays in the high-end hotel business.

Davidson, who flew fighter jets for the Canadian Forces and was a a pilot for United Airlines, takes it all in stride because he knows how important his company is in the success of luxury hotels such as this collection of new lifestyle properties in New York.

"We have all the relationships. That’s why we kill it," he said. "I don’t want to sound too self-servicing, but we are pretty damned good."

Davidson, who founded the company 15 years ago with his mother and sister who’ve both retired, is not so much bragging about himself as he is his highly trained sales agents, some of whom bring in solid six-figure pay packets.

"Our expectation is that our agents know the hotels better than the reservation department at the hotel itself," Davidson said.

Magellan exclusively sells rooms in about 250 four- and five-star hotels in 15 cities and only on a one-to-one basis over the phone. Even though these are high-end, expensive hotels, they still need help selling rooms they can’t book at the list price.

And rather than list those rooms on Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com or any of the other online sites, they pay Magellan at least a 15 per cent commission to deploy its personal sales team to move that distressed property.

All those sites and the hotels’ own websites have the same price, called a single-image inventory. If they drop the price on one, they have to drop them on them all because they can all be shopped by bots.

All of Magellan’s business is over the phone. Their prices are not published electronically.

Magellan can guarantee prices that are a minimum 10 per cent below anything else on the market to its high-end clientele that include the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Jerry Lewis, Alex Ovechkin and countless other big-league sports and entertainment stars.

"Hotels effectively dump excess inventory under the radar through us," said Davidson. "So the Plaza has entry-level rooms starting at $700, we will sell that for $500; a $2,000 suite, we sell for $1,200."

And with a lot of new hotels being built in New York, the operators need to curry as much favour as they can with Magellan’s people.

"I can’t go wrong with Magellan," said Bassim Ouachani, manager of the WestHouse. "Their production is amazing. They are great people to work with. They understand what the business is, and their clientele is amazing. You want that kind of clientele to come to your hotel."

It was the first time Charlie Palmer had been to Winnipeg, but he said he travels all the time and loves coming to new places.

He has a couple of restaurants in the Knickerbocker and hopes Magellan will one day include his California hotels in its roster of properties.

"I have been working in kitchens since I was 14, and I think hospitality, any aspect of it, is about relationships," he said. "It’s a good example of what Magellan does on a daily basis. They take such a personal approach to travel."

Ouachani, Shawn Hauver of the Knickerbocker and Vincent Vienne, managing director of the Quin, are all trying to ramp up their new hotels — all part of Highgate Hotels LP — in the competitive New York market.

When Magellan’s staff fields one of 800 calls per day from its 400,000 clients, the hotel operators want to be comfortable that regardless of the price they’ve given Magellan that day, its sales agents will be familiar enough with the property to put its high-end clients in their properties.

"It’s important for us to have the face time with the agents from Magellan, to understand them and figure out what we can do better and what they can do better to direct clients to our hotel," said Ouachani.

"Magellan has been a great partner for us since the beginning of the Quin," said Vienne of his 21/2-year-old hotel. "We’re here to thank them for the support and spend some quality time together and get to meet them at a more personal level."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Martin Cash .

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