Member Spotlight: An Interview with Karen Weiner Escalera
by Lynare Robbins
Global Ties Miami member, Karen Weiner Escalera is the President and Chief Strategist of KWE Partners, a public relations and marketing firm specializing in luxury travel, hospitality and lifestyle for over 40 years. Formerly in New York City and now in Miami, the firm has counseled top executives at a “who’s who” of global hotel chains, boutique resorts, cruise lines, travel tech firms and government tourism boards. Her firm’s PR and marketing campaigns have been cited as setting the standard by influential media ranging from Ad Age and Fortune, to CBS, leading industry journals, and USA Today. She is the recipient of the Hospitality Sales Association Marketing Institute’s (HSMAI) prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award and has been named one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales and Marketing by HSMAI.
Karen’s international journey and zest for learning began at a young age, when at 16 she won an essay contest for the state of Delaware on the importance of the United Nations. That foreshadowed a passionate interest in learning about the world and traveling. After graduating cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, she received a teaching fellowship in Bogota, Colombia at the Universidad Nacional and lived and worked there for a year. This experience further fueled her interest in the world beyond the United States. “Travel has always been my avocation and vocation, and I’m an avid reader of international economics and politics,” said Karen. She added that travel helps promote peace, “I cite one of my former employers, Conrad Hilton, whose hotel company slogan was “World Peace Through Travel.”
I had the opportunity to ask Karen a series of questions about her life, work and insight into the public relations, travel and hospitality industries.
LR: Working in the travel and marketing industries for over 45 years sounds fascinating, how have the industries evolved over time?
KWE: When I started in the hospitality business with Hilton International hotels, the opening of a Hilton Hotel overseas was big news. Leisure travel was only really starting in earnest. Americans who were traveling were going close to home — the Caribbean, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, or at most, to major European capitals. The cruise industry was in the early stages too, and travel was seen as a luxury. Today, travel shows up in surveys across all age groups, especially millennials, as one of their top priorities. And people want to travel differently — they’re interested in experiences and interacting with the locals. Niche categories- special interest travel- and even micro niche have exploded, so we have everything from gardening and birdwatching to wellness, culinary, cultural tourism, and much more. The cost of travel has become more accessible, now within the budget of the middle class, especially cruising and Airbnb’s. And, of course, with the advent of globalization, business travel has become a way of life. Sellers of travel are no longer only brick and mortar travel agents. Museums, newspapers, garden clubs, ballet companies, and many others are selling trips as a new source of revenue, and sometimes to offer a perk to big donors and members.
LR: You are a well-seasoned traveler and have lived and worked in various places, do you see the travel industry as being similar or distinct according to location?
KWE: The principles are the same. What is different is the level of development of the industry in different locations and its importance in the local economy.
LR: How is the hospitality and tourism industry being impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you have an advice for those working in the industry?
KWE: Sadly, this is a devastating event for the industry. That being said, based on surveys on the lifestyle priorities of all ages in the developed countries as well as China and India, the urge to travel will not go away, and only grow. The challenge is will a lot of these people have the financial resources to travel in the short term based on the global economic recession. There was recently an excellent article on what’s next in Forbes Magazine.
LR: You were a contributor for the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and the Spanish luxury lifestyle magazine, Luhho. You also explore and share your passion for travel through your personal blog, MiamiCurated. Can you tell readers more about your life working in journalism?
KWE: When I decided to go into public relations and marketing, I was told at the time to get a journalism background. I started out working for an industry magazine, then going on to contribute to newspapers writing about travel. Those experiences were an ideal springboard for my career, and skills which have stood me in good stead until today. In fact, one of the most effective ways I promoted my agency, KWE Partners, was through writing a syndicated newsletter on luxury travel and lifestyle trends which in turn lead to speaking engagements. Besides travel, my other passions are culture, food and fashion. Eight years ago, I decided to pursue those passions with a personal blog MiamiCurated. The blog has been a great source of pleasure and work and has led to exciting new discoveries.
LR: You recently became a member of Global Ties Miami, how did you find out about the organization and what prompted you to become a member?
KWE: Happily, I found out about Global Ties Miami through a friend of my partner. I was so pleased to hear of an opportunity to meet other like-minded people and to be able to contribute in some other ways to the international community.
You can read more about the hospitality and tourism industry at Luxury Travel & Lifestyle Trends newsletter on the KWE Partners’ website.