Leaders with Substance: JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers

Leaders with Substance: JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers

Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates offer some of the most amazing experiences on earth. Working behind the scenes, their job is to connect select, often very boutique hotels and resorts – many in extremely remote corners of the world – with the very top private travel agents representing billionaires, A List celebrities, politicians and beyond.

JoAnn established the company in 2002, after two decades of experience at Ritz-Carlton. Here’s what JoAnn had to say about life as a leader in luxury travel when we caught up with her this week…

“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 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.

The best business decision I ever made was to open my own business. I really had no evidence that it would work out so I had to have that leap of faith. I loved my years working for companies but deciding to leave all the comfort and security of having a job and start my own business has been the best decision.

Travel is really the thing that opens everybody up. You can hear about an incident somewhere in the world and that whole place becomes that problem in your mind, yet when you go there; all of a sudden the beauty of the place, the people of the place, the culture, the history, the food – everything becomes one big tapestry and that one little incident dissolves.

The travel industry has a huge role to play in supporting local communities. We have an 8 bedroom villa in Boccas del Toros in Panama that supports 55 families. It’s the housekeepers, it’s the growing and getting of the food from the local community, it’s teaching the staff English, it’s teaching them about sustainability and what to do with plastic and garbage and it has had such an impact on that area. The impact on the whole community is bigger than almost anything.

Politics follows the money. When you look at certain destinations in the United States, let’s say Las Vegas; they have a $250m budget so they’ve taken it upon themselves, nobody waits for the government to come in and step in to fund and support, the destinations are aggressive and they see the value and they are promoting travel in their own way. I can see this happening more and more because everybody is travelling no matter what level of travel it is, people are travelling more than ever, so it can’t be ignored.

We will see space travel in our lifetime and I think that people are going to go more and more remote and continue to want to claim very unique experiences. I just got back from Mongolia and, though it’s not a new destination, a lot of people haven’t been there and it’s a beautiful country that’s wide open for tourism. You see people living as they have been living for thousands and thousands of years and the purity of the culture shakes you out of your own world reality. It gives you the space to get clarity and I think that is what people are seeking.

I travel about 75% of the time so I’m always moving. People say sometimes I’m going somewhere and my last night I’m just going to stay in the airport because I only have x amount of time, and I’m like why – you can sleep on the plane – don’t miss anything, just keep seeing whatever you can see and go whenever you can go. By being an example, I think people have taken trips they wouldn’t have taken because they were waiting for the perfect circumstance.”

How do you keep the world moving?

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