In 1954, Marie Dobson, a recent graduate of the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, began a long career at Hilton Hotels. Starting out in a desk position, she eventually became president of Hilton Service Corporation, the home of Hilton’s reservation services. She was smart, industrious and up for a challenge, but little did Hilton know that Dobson would not meet the employment standards of the day for a woman in the hospitality industry. Dobson was one of the first eight people to organize and staff the new Hilton reservations office in New York, known as HILCRON, under the direction of Marc Armani. In the mid-1950s, this revolutionary technology made it possible to reserve rooms 90 days in advance. The ability to make reservations well in advance and know what type of rooms (doubles, singles or suites) were available at each of the 27 Hilton hotels was a game changer at the time. Hilton also didn’t charge guests for the long-distance phone call needed to make the reservation, a significant cost for the company in the pre-iPhone era, but a significant savings for guests. Stepping onto the first floor of this new technology, Dobson learned how reservations worked and how they could be improved.
As Hilton Hotels has grown in the United States and around the world, Dobson’s responsibilities have also expanded. In fact, she helped set up reservation offices in many of these new destinations. Particularly in international destinations, bridging local technology with that used by Hilton, as well as hiring staff for the expanded reservation desks, was a daunting challenge. Reservations offices realized that they were the first point of contact with potential customers, and as such courtesy and prompt response to customer questions quickly became their ethos.
To complicate the work of reservation centers, Hilton spun off its international hotels into a separate company, Hilton International, which was soon acquired by TWA. However, the two companies, Hilton Domestic and Hilton International, retained a 50% stake in the Reservations Offices, meaning that the Reservations Centers had, in effect, two bosses. Both hotel companies wanted to make their customer service and reservations transparent to the general public. Amazingly, it worked! Most travelers and guests never suspected that Hilton Hotels were actually two separate companies.
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Dobson was the ever-changing communication technologies. At a time when technology was considered the domain of men, Dobson showed she could achieve superior mastery of new technology. It was under his leadership that service standards were established. Moreover, as technology evolved, it helped usher in the many advancements. In 1961 reservations came in by telephone, teleprinters, fax machines and cable telex. In 1975, as operations manager, she helped inaugurate the first computer for the reservations department, eliminating much of the typing work and allowing for more information per request and personalized service. That same year, she was elected vice president of operations for Hilton Service Corporation, directing the operation of Hilton’s global reservation system. Ten years later, she became president and CEO of Hilton Service Company. In 1985, she moved Hilton Reservations to Dallas, expecting to reach 10 million guest calls by 1986. To facilitate the growing number of guest calls, she helped launch 800-HILTONS. This easy-to-remember phone number made it easier for potential customers to contact the reservation center.