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Fast Talk: Paul McManus

Paul McManus, president and CEO of the 400-property Leading Hotels of the World, learned the lodging industry from the bottom up—literally. He says his first job in the business made him feel like Manuel, the hapless Spanish bellhop in "Fawlty Towers." But that experience fostered a relentless attention to detail, a trait that serves him well as the head of the 75-year-old company representing some of the best classic hotels around the globe. We caught up with McManus to find out what it takes for a hotel to measure up in the world of luxury travel, why he's not afraid to rough it, and where he likes to stay when he travels.

1. Where are you right now? Is there any place else you'd rather be?
I travel so much—I was out of the country 148 days during 2002—I'm very happy to be right where I am, in my office.

2. Where do you go when you're not traveling for business?
Anywhere that doesn't require a great deal of traveling to reach it, and where I can find a beach and golf. Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are great because they are easily accessible from New York City, and their casual sophistication appeals to me.

3. How did you get started in the travel industry?
Working summers during high school and college at a hotel in West Hampton, New York. I did everything! I was a bellhop. I worked the front desk. I served drinks by the pool. I worked in the kitchen at night, parked cars, was a lifeguard. I was rather like an American version of Manuel on "Fawlty Towers." The tips were very good! I was putting myself through college.

4. To become a member of LHW, a hotel must go through a rigorous application process. What criteria do you look for before you accept new hotels?
We have benchmarked 1,500 points of reference on which we judge every applicant hotel. This is not a fussy "white-glove test" evaluation. Rather, we examine hotels from the customer's point of view relative to the entire hotel experience. It begins at the time the reservation is made, and includes arrival at the hotel, service at reception, room product, restaurant service and product, room service—anything that affects a guest's stay.

5. What are your favorite new properties among Leading Hotels and Leading Small Hotels of the World?
I would have to say the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California, and Miraval, Life in Balance Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona. Both hotels reflect a lifestyle-oriented approach to hotel-keeping. They allow guests to fully enjoy the experience of the destinations, and they focus on delivering a high degree of guest service and satisfaction.

6. What is the most common question you're asked by consumers?
"What is your favorite hotel?"—which I answer rhetorically by asking people what it is they look for in a hotel, what it is that makes them feel comfortable. If they like a large, classic resort with great golf and good beaches, I might recommend Boca Raton Resort & Club. If they like city hotels on an intimate scale with unique interior design, I might suggest One Aldwych in London or Hotel Lancaster in Paris.

7. What is the one unforgivable gaffe that a luxury hotel can commit?
Insincere hospitality: the "Have a nice day" mentality.

8. What are your favorite classic hotels in the world?
Hotels like the Peninsula Hong Kong, Baur au Lac in Zürich, and the Hay-Adams in Washington, D.C. All of these hotels have very successfully combined the classic hotel experience with today's technology requirements—in a very unobtrusive and sophisticated manner.

9. What is the strangest travel experience you have ever had?
I once found myself stranded in Haiti after I missed a flight on a not-terribly-reputable airline. I wound up staying in a small pension where there was no phone, so my family had no idea where I was. During the night, I was awakened by what sounded like a voodoo ceremony going on below me. The noises were so unnerving that I moved the dresser in front of the door to my room, and I spent the rest of the night with one eye open.

10. If you were to rough it, where would you stay? How would you approach taking a non-luxury vacation?
Vacations, roughing it, and luxury aren't mutually exclusive terms. I might like to visit the Grand Tetons or go to Big Sky country; both destinations would be luxurious in the beauty they offer the senses, and in the serenity they offer the mind.

—Jennifer Cole

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