News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 8, 2003 - Walt Disney World executives said Friday that the transfer this week of the company's time-share business to a senior manager whose sole focus will be on that segment shows a new commitment to the fast-growing sideline.
Jim Lewis, a senior vice president who formerly headed public affairs, on Thursday assumed control of the Disney Vacation Club.
The time-share operation has grown to six resorts with more than 70,000 time-share members since 1991, when it opened its first resort with a Key West theme.
"The past few years have exceeded our own high expectations," Lewis said Friday, and with time-share membership in Disney resorts tripling in six years, "the company has made a decision to have a senior executive focus on this full time."
Saratoga Springs, the seventh and largest Disney time-share resort, is under construction on 16 acres near Downtown Disney. A first phase opens next spring and when completed in 2005 it will add 552 units, giving Disney more than 2,100 time-share units, or nearly 1 in 12 of all time shares statewide.
Randy Garfield, Disney's executive vice president of sales and travel and Lewis' boss, said Friday that the fact Lewis has a strong finance background is not an indicator that the time-share business needs special attention or bolstering in that area.
"There is no finance problem," Garfield said.
Although Lewis has no hotel or time-share experience, he has displayed a variety of leadership skills during his seven years at Disney and in previous management roles at PepsiCo and elsewhere, Garfield said. "It won't take him long to get up to speed," Garfield said. "That was a key consideration," in the appointment.
Lewis said he was excited about the challenge of taking on the new assignment but conceded that "I have a lot of work to do," in learning the time-share business, "from soup to nuts."
He assumes the role previously held by George Aguel, who joined the company in 1990 and built Disney's time-share business from scratch, earning a national reputation in the hospitality industry. Aguel also is widely recognized as one of the nation's top Hispanic business executives.
Aguel will continue to head Disney's group and convention business, and takes on a new role in developing alliances with corporations for joint marketing and other business relations. Moreover, Garfield said, Aguel will continue to act as an "elder statesman" for the time-share business. "He's going to be a resource to draw on," Garfield said, but will have no direct hand in the business.
Garfield and Lewis would not talk about any future projects for the time-share division, but Lewis said he accepted the position with the expectation of growth. "I'm not going to be satisfied," with the status quo, Lewis said.
For the near future, he said, his focus will be on Saratoga Springs, which is taking over some of the property formerly housing the Disney Institute. The institute combined a resort vacation with personal development sessions in areas such as cooking and art. But in the past several years the institute's training sessions have been dispersed to other Disney resorts and the lodging portion of the former institute has been demolished to make way for Saratoga Springs.
Disney's other time-share resorts are the Old Key West, BoardWalk Villas, Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, and Disney's Beach Club Villas, all on Disney World property. The company also has Disney's Vero Beach Resort on the Atlantic Ocean and Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina.
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