JOANN KURTZ AHLERS – FACE TO FACE

We recently ran into JoAnne Kurtz-Ahlers – President – Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates LLC, during ILTM Cannes. We asked her how the show was for her this year.

It’s so interesting for me, because I’ve been coming to ILTM for many years and this year it seems much bigger, with more products and many more buyers. In the past, there was a more relaxed atmosphere where people would kind of visit and spend some time chatting, and now, I feel the people are very busy and very focussed… in a good way. They want to see as much as they can see. People are popping into our stand, saying “What’s new? What do I need to know about? What’s happening?” For the travel agents, the clients are so savvy and there’s so much information out there that the game is being upped all the time in terms of what you need to know. The travel advisor really has a big job in terms of sifting through, but in a show like this, which is curated, then now you want to take in as much as you can. Usually because we have small independent brands in general at our booth, we usually have new products. One of them is Grenada – the Silver Sands – which is kind of exciting, because it’s not just a new luxury resort, but for the US, it’s a little bit more of a new destination. People from the UK go there a little more frequently than the US, so people are excited to have both – a new product and a new destination. We have some other products that are only a couple of years new, but are still to be discovered, as you have to take some time to get to know them better. For instance, in Rajastan, there are three tented camps: one where you go for tigers, one for leopards, and one is a desert experience. People going to India don’t necessarily think about different tented experiences there. People have heard of Ranthambhore for the tigers. But for instance in Jawai, in the middle of Rajastan, you can go hiking and then you have a countryside Indian experience where you see people in the fields, or herding goats, or people with their cows, then return to your tented camp, from where you can have leopard excursions. Leopards are a little more elusive. But if you don’t see a leopard, you could end up in a village, and have a cultural countryside experience.

So this is very much part of the “immersive” tourism trend.

Exactly. Then we have some cities like Barcelona where we have a brand-new product called the Almanac. It just opened two weeks ago. It’s a modern, very high end, interesting, artsy, beautiful property. And because they’re not part of a big brand, shows like this are so important to get the word out about the new products.

Do you see any interesting trends in demand this year?

We got a lot of last-minute requests for India right before the show. In the past, we never had short-term business in the month for the month over the festive period. Maybe in the UK that existed, but in the US, going to India was a bigger deal, so people needed a much bigger lead-time. So that has been a little shocking. We always get last minute festive, but we are booking a lot of festive at the show. I think there is a lot of uncertainty in the world at large. Every day there’s some kind of new drama, and it makes it hard for people to plan so far in advance; that said, people are tending to becoming desensitised.