Q&A with Josh Lesnick ALHI

Appointed to his post nearly two years ago, Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) President and CEO Josh Lesnick, who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years, has made it a point to raise the bar for ALHI’s positioning within the luxury hotel sales industry. This year, the company is expected to roll out four newly cultivated “Wow Experiences” in Atlanta, Boston, Denver and Los Angeles. These experiences are designed to drive connections and relationships. Also in the works this year, ALHI has plans to announce new partnerships beyond the travel category.

Hotel Business reached out to Lesnick to find out more about his take on the industry and ALHI’s strategy for 2019.

What should the industry know about ALHI? ALHI was created in 1986, with just 14 hotels and resorts, as a means to compete alongside major brands and large hotel chains within the MICE space. Now, more than three decades later, our 65-member global sales team continues to champion for a global curated collection of small luxury brands and independent luxury hotels in an even more competitive environment than ever before.

How have you seen the industry evolve over the years? The ongoing industry consolidation has led to a void, as it has become harder for global sellers to have close relationships with their customers and familiarity with their properties. Through thoughtful, strategic growth, we have maintained a high level of intimacy with our member hotels and our customers’ needs. We have found that “quality not quantity” is the winning strategy in the luxury MICE category. We are focused on curating the best collections of properties that uphold our high standards, while growing the world’s leading global sales organization. The ALHI sales force boasts one sales professional for every three member hotels. That ratio is among the best in the industry and ensures that every member hotel receives the personal service that they deserve.

Unlike the majority of the industry today, our overall development strategy is not focused on just adding hotels, but instead on adding the right hotels in the right locations that our luxury customers need.

What’s your take on loyalty programs? Does ALHI have plans to launch one? Having had the fortunate opportunity to work on the development and rollout of four of the world’s largest hotel rewards programs in prior roles, I have developed an appreciation and understanding of how loyalty programs perform and the value they deliver. Over time, many of these programs have moved away from their original intent of building trust and loyalty as the programs’ terms are constantly changed. For our independent-minded luxury hotels, a traditional cookie-cutter loyalty program would be counter-intuitive. In speaking with our customers and hotel members, we do not believe that a points-based program is the reason a luxury meeting professional would select one of our member hotels for their meetings. Instead, we see a stronger opportunity in developing a simple and meaningful recognition program that provides unique, memorable experiences and amenities that reinforce the destination and locale. Stay tuned for more details.

If you could go back to when you first began your career, what would you tell yourself? It’s all about success through others. Make sure to surround yourself with people who are open, honest and flexible. Strike a good balance on using data, but talk to your team members and customers to make sure you use the information you have in a way that creates value and supports their success. Be authentic and establish who you are, the culture you want, and then spend the time to ensure people feel invested and are all driving toward the same end goals.

What keeps you up at night? Thinking “what’s next?” In our ever-changing, high-touch industry, we must stay ahead of disruptors like new technologies, and larger trends such as wellness and incorporating “everyday experiences” into events. Selling and marketing is a never-ending pursuit to improve, and at ALHI, we often use our own sales meetings and conferences to test out our new ideas. For example, at our Executive Women’s Leadership Conference, we offered wellness initiatives such as yoga and meditation. At our recent global sales meeting at Ojai Valley Inn, we hosted a private estate party, which was a great success, and we are evolving that into a series of newly designed events for our clients.

What’s ALHI’s growth strategy for 2019? Our greatest asset is our people and their relationships with clients. ALHI’s current MICE sales team is second to none in terms of their experience, knowledge and customer relationships. As the majority of ALHI’s sales executives are based in North America, we now have plans to expand our global sales organization in Europe where we now have six seasoned sellers. We are also in the process of building out our member portfolio in the European market, and then will focus on doing the same in key markets in Asia-Pacific.

While we have experienced a strong demand for new members who want to join the ALHI portfolio, our emphasis always remains on creating success and value for our current members, and our growth strategy will continue to be strategic in nature and aligned with our customers’ needs.

From what I hear, you have a love for thoroughbred racing. What about it piqued your interest? During college, I spent my summers working at a resort in Lake George, NY, that was a short drive to Saratoga Downs Race Track. I went to my first thoroughbred horse race and I was hooked. On our days off, a group of us would head to the track to experience the excitement of long shots and closers. One of my favorite things to do when I’m in that area is to wake up before dawn and head to the practice track to watch the horses warm up. You can stand along the rail and hear the thunder of horses as they appear and disappear in and out of the morning fog. HB

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