JoAnn, Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally.
I have always loved to travel and turned my passion into a career, starting with the two decades I spent as vice president of sales and business development for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the years I have put into helping luxury suppliers in the tourism field market their resorts, hotels, spas and travel companies since 2002 as president of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates.
There is a lot of competition, especially for the upscale traveler who wants focused attention, amazing amenities and privacy in a business stay or vacation. We only take on companies that can please the sophisticated traveler, who is often difficult to please, and we work to make sure the messages of our clients get heard above the noise.
Imagine that you met someone in an elevator and were asked to explain Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates in 30 seconds or less… Can you give us a 2 sentence ‘elevator pitch’ about your business and what you do?
Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates currently has clients including 69 exceptional hotels, resorts, wellness retreats and destination specialists, carefully chosen and accepted for their profile in serving upscale and luxury-minded guests. We amplify their marketing presence with powerful digital outreach as well as our strong relationships with the travel agents and travel partners they need to engage. We are a small company – only 16 full/ part-time people on-board. But as such we are lean and focused and very impassioned by what we do.
How did you get started in this business?
I worked my way up through the ranks at Ritz-Carlton to become the first woman to ever reach the title of vice president of sales & business development for the company. I oversaw business development worldwide, including new and existing properties in Dubai, Spain, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. Once you have had a taste of working in such mystifying and enigmatic places it is hard to do anything else.
Can you describe your customers / what type of customers does Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates have?
Our customers are not consumers. Rather we are a B2B company that works with very select, often very boutique hotels and resorts – many in extremely remote corners of the world. These are the places sought out by the most refined of travelers looking for new incredible spots in the world and rare experiences — and the places we represent offer those. We help our clients reach these guests through the specialized marketing we do for them and through the relationships we have in the travel industry. We then work with the very top travel advisors in the world and their clients are the very top travelers. We link the properties to the advisors who link their clients.
What are some of your “keys to success” in building your customer base?
In the travel world you would think it is about location, location, location. But it is about relationships, relationships, relationships. As someone who has been in the travel business and building relationships in this industry for 35 years, I would say the keys to success lie in staying current with your contacts, nurturing those contacts, being generous with your time and knowledge, and offering your clients extraordinary services they might not be able to get elsewhere, or can obtain at this scale with cost efficiency.
Is there anything about your business that you feel makes it special?
The clients we have offer some of the most amazing experiences on the earth. Whether they are flying to the bottom of South America or an island off Cambodia, or visiting a resort on an island in the Galapagos that has more giant tortoises than people, or wandering into a luxury tent in the middle of the Gobi Desert, no two clients are alike and each one is an entire world of awe. We are on a ride of perpetual enchantment in what we do, especially when you have already seen so much of the world.
What kind of technology advances do you see that will likely affect this sector over the coming few years?
Ahhh, this is a good question, perhaps the million-dollar question. Every year we are facing new technology and shifting our marketing focus considering those new capabilities. Where to start: you have online agencies taking over bookings that – considering many of our resorts might charge more than $1000 a night – would and should be left to humans who have been to these venues, and whose businesses are based on their ability to attest to the services and details of their recommendations. You have driverless cars coming onboard – will we be able to guarantee our guests will be met and delivered safely? You have a blurring between professional news and alt news, advertorials and vetted articles, social media and reality – and this is only going to get more prevalent. How are travelers who are about to spend quite a lot of money on a vacation to get the real truth about a product before making a major travel investment?
Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? In the next ten years?
Our business stays rather constant as we are a marketing service, not a booking service. We do not take on too many clients. We are very careful about the clients we do take on, for their ability to match the niche luxury profile we serve. Therefore, we are not concerned with growing too big or too fast. Rather, we will keep adjusting to the media technology available to us and continue to find ways to gently but steadily keep our clients visible and branded in the markets we serve.