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Fast Talk: Jonathan Tisch

Jonathan Tisch is not your typical hotelier. As chairman and chief executive officer of Loews Hotels, he has brought the Italian Riviera to Orlando, transformed average guests into rock stars, and wiped the dust off classic properties to reveal their hidden grandeur. As chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable and as a board member of NYC & Co. (New York City's official tourism marketing organization), he has taken a proactive role in ensuring that the travel industry remain vibrant. It's no surprise that he has been named among the Top 25 Travel Executives of 2001 by Business Travel News, one of Crain's New York Business magazine's All Stars, and Travel Agent magazine's Hotel Person of the Year. You can even find a couple of Emmy nominations for his TV production and editing work stashed among his awards. T+L.com recently caught up with Tisch to learn more about the man behind the hotel chain that feels like anything but a chain.

1. Where are you right now and why?Is there any place you would rather be?
Sitting at my desk working, and yes, there are many places I would rather be.

2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or pleasure?
On the average, I travel at least once a week. . .almost always for business.

3. What items will you not travel without?
My laptop computer, so I can check e-mails, and my magazine bag. I get about 20 magazines each week and I like to use my airplane time to catch up. I read everything from the hotel trades and the top business publications to Entertainment Weekly and Travel + Leisure.

4. Does your background in the entertainment industry influence the development of the Loews properties?
My experience as a television producer/cinematographer really helped me gain a unique perspective on the hotel business, which is actually just an extension of the entertainment industry. It's all about creating a moment and an experience that help people transcend their everyday lives…whether it's a two-hour movie or a two-week vacation.

5. Describe the perfect hotel room. Is there any amenity no room should be without?
The perfect hotel room is one that combines comfort and function, with a little bit of fun. We're not out to be the hippest hotel on the block, but rather the one that makes you feel that you're home…but with room service and a housekeeper. The amenity no room should be without isn't actually an amenity, but the thoughtful and sincere service that makes a travel experience special and unique.

6. Has the downturn in the economy affected development plans for future hotels?
We are always looking at new opportunities for growth, and historically Loews has built a reputation for being a contrarian, so you may see us announcing some new projects soon. In the meantime, we are full steam ahead with our current expansion plans which include opening our third hotel at Universal Orlando in Florida—the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort—and developing a new project in Boston.

7. What can you tell us about the Royal Pacific Resort?
The design is amazing, truly authentic South Pacific. Everything is imported from that part of the world—from palm trees to all the wood carvings. The elaborate landscaping, with waterfalls, lagoons, and the world's most extensive natural orchid garden, will re-create the feeling of being in Bali. The pool is really the kicker; it is going to be the largest in Orlando, and will have an interactive play area with amazing water toys of all kinds. The food is going to be great too. Emeril will be operating an Asian-inspired restaurant called Tchoup Chop, and there will be about six other restaurants and bars…all right on the grounds of the Universal Orlando theme parks.

8. Why was it so important for you to develop Loews' Good Neighbor Policy and become vice-chair of the Welfare to Work program?
At Loews Hotels, we've long believed in the importance of recognizing our social responsibilities. When we launched the Good Neighbor Policy in 1990, it set a standard as the first and most comprehensive community outreach program of its kind in the hospitality industry.

More important, it gave us the opportunity to use the resources inherent in the daily operations at our hotels to make a difference in the lives of the people who live and work in the communities where we are located.

Activities that have now become part of our ongoing efforts to have a positive impact on cities across the country and Canada include donating excess food to hunger relief organizations, supporting local literacy programs, recycling, cleaning up beaches and parks, giving away linens and furniture as we renovate, and encouraging employee volunteerism.

In my role as vice-chairman of the Welfare to Work Partnership, and as an outgrowth of the Good Neighbor Policy, we also implemented Welfare to Work programs at several Loews properties to help transition former welfare recipients into the workforce, and, specifically, into the lodging industry.

9. What's the strangest story you've heard about what's gone on at one of your properties?
Someone throwing out personal Polaroids from a window at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. And I mean very personal pictures. . . .

10. What is the travel advice you most often give these days?
As we all look to heal and recover from the tragic events of September 11th, we must try to heed the advice of the president and resume our normal activities. Traveling is a freedom that Americans have rightfully come to expect, and is now also a patriotic act that is perhaps the ultimate act of defiance to terrorists. Also, there happen to be some really great deals out there now, so my advice: Take a trip, and enjoy America!

—Interviewed by Hillary Geronemus

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