26years later - they're still friends! An Interesting Q&A With Our Directors Rich & Andy.
It’s been 20 years for Kaluma Travel, a huge achievement and something to be proud of! We’re curious to find out how it all started so, we’ve put some questions to our Directors and co-owners Andy and Richard.
How and when did you meet?
Andy: In Kitzbuhel on our first winter seasons. Rich was a ski guide for a holiday company and I was a Resort Rep / Ski guide for a rival company. We got on straight away. I remember being mighty impressed as he remains to this day, the only person I have seen snap a ski while skiing mogles!
Several years later we both went on to manage one of the first luxury corporate ski companies, Rich in France and me in Austria/Switzerland and the bromance grew……
Rich (the slightly better skier): We shared certain habits. We both genuinely love taking people skiing (/showing off) and we always made sure we had pre-booked a favourite lunch spot.
Coincidentally (honestly), it was frequently the same restaurant, followed by 100% obligatory and 100mph Kitzbuhel apres ski (we were in our mid-twenties back then(!), maybe today there are quite a few less shot skis being ordered).
What made you decide to start Kaluma Travel?
Andy: In my eyes it was a combo. First of all, like most businesses, we had seen how it works and believed we could do it better. We had quite a clear vision of what we wanted to do – and we set about doing it! Secondly – maybe mainly (?) it was a great to keep us living in the mountains and skiing/eating/drinking/ having fun – which we loved!
Rich (the slightly better skier): Such hard earned notoriety gifted us the power to access Kitzbuhel’s most packed and exclusive bars via the back doors and straight to the front of the bar with our guests in tow, even during the uber exclusive Hahnenkamm race week. I remember an airline leasing company MD being so impressed. His clients were blown away with the informal VIP service, he said that we should start a business hosting business trips. Perhaps that was the seed. He tipped me the equivalent of a month’s wages the next morning, so I guess he had a successful weekend. He also became a client for a decade.
What was the first luxury chalet on your portfolio?
Andy: In St Anton our first chalet was Chalet Montfort – which we helped build ourselves!!
Rich (the slightly better skier): In Courchevel 1850, it was Chalet Vizelle. A small piste-side, chocolate box chalet with incredible views of the Dent de Villard and Mont Blanc.
Andy, how long have you lived in St Anton?
Since 2000 – so coming on 24 years! Lived, met future wife, married future wife, had kids with wife and live – all in St Anton, all in the last 24 years.
Rich, did you live in Courchevel?
I lived in Courchevel for a glorious 14 seasons and now I commute back every other week during the Winter. I don’t ski as much as used to, so Andy might be better than me now. That’s a big admission, which I’m not sure I’m ready to go public with. I’m certainly not telling Butterworth. (Author: Sorry Rich but we are sharing this on socials and a blog so ummm, I think Andy *might* have read this!)
How did you decide who was based in which location?
Andy: More a case of where we knew and specialised in. We only ever wanted to be very niche and specialised in the resorts that we knew most about and could offer the very best service with amazing connections and an unrivalled service and knowledge. Plus the Arlberg skiing is probably too tough for Rich.
Rich (equivalent skier to Andy 😂): My very first season in Courchevel was to be my last before I went off to get myself ‘a proper job’. However, that infamous season it snowed, and snowed, and snowed and snowed … from December to April. I skied powder until I could barely walk home. I was absolutely, completely and utterly hooked. During my skiing life, I’ve been lucky enough to ski over 100 different resorts and I still believe Courchevel is the best in the world.
What has been your biggest challenge, apart from Covid?
Andy: Wow – big question. Covid was horrible for so many businesses. It was a real challenge to keep going and pure determination and ‘doing the right thing’ that got us through. That was a real challenge. We have faced a lot of challenges in the past 20 years. Set up / start up, many people trying to knock you down before you even start. Currency crashes, corporate crashes, ‘world financial crashes, erupting volcanoes, Brexit, Pandemics – it’s been an ‘exciting ride’. Personally – my biggest challenge has been juggling our own business, the workload and the family life. Getting that balance right is crucial to the success of both (work and family!)
Rich (equivalentish skier to Andy): In our early years, we serviced a mainly British client base. Now our guests are really a global family. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also a challenge to adapt to the differing needs and tastes of such a wide spectrum of people. We have to keep ourselves in tune with hospitality trends and we must stay well-travelled. The World is changing at breathtaking speed, that’s a challenge.
Things change and I’m sure in 20 years you have seen a few, what has been the biggest change in the industry?
Andy: Im not sure if I remember a single ‘big change’ in the industry. I would say the biggest change for us has been Brexit and the employment laws. We used to employ a predominantly British workforce in resorts. Since Brexit , we now employ a mainly European team. The Euro passport is key! That’s not a good / bad thing, just a change from the norm!
If anything, I would say the market is heading to an even more luxurious space - the demand for service and high end hospitality is getting bigger and bigger! And we need to adapt and change with it….
Rich (equivalentish skier to Andy): I think the biggest challenge is still to come in the form of a warming planet. The industry is doing a lot to adapt for the future, but ultimately the higher altitude resorts will stay colder for longer, with better snow conditions and inevitably become even more sought after destinations. More demand, higher expectations – we need to be ahead of that curve.
What have you been most proud of in the last 20 years of Kaluma?
Andy: My first thought is what we have achieved and our little black guest book…..We’ve looked after Royal Families, normal families, Celebrity, Business Stars, Sports Stars, Hollywood, Bollywood, Millionaires, Billionaires, Multi Nationals, Mini Nationals, High profile, low profile, friends and relatives. We’ve organised weddings, huge gala events, meetings, incentives, conferences, product launches, birthday parties, reunions, the list goes on….. But what am I most proud about. What still gives me a little buzz and makes me smile – is our team. Employing, training, watching them grow, develop and enjoy their job. Watch them believe in what they are doing. That gives me a great sense of responsibility and pride.
Rich (probably not the better skier anymore): Just proud of Kaluma and all that it has stood for over the years. Proud of our teams, in the UK, who we could not do without and in resort who are the front line of our business – they all showcase everything that is ‘Kaluma’. And secretly, I’m really proud of what me and my mate have achieved. We should shout about it more…..
We have inside information that there are more exciting things to come this year, can you tell us more?
Andy: Moving with the market – we have got two super new, really luxurious chalets in Courchevel in the portfolio. They really are stunning! And with the new need for seemingly luxurious summer mountain breaks, we are going to be offering our Eden Rock chalet in St Anton for the summer months.
Rich (equivalent skier to Andy): A hand-picked portfolio of fabulous Alpine hotels accompanied by a personal ski consultation service. Watch this space.
Finally, how did you celebrate your 20th year in business?
Andy: Very understated actually – a good ski, a good steak and some lovely red wine and a laugh over the memories. Although that was more of an end of season jolly – Maybe the big celebration is yet to come!
Rich (equivalent skier to Andy): I’m going to surprise Andy with a ski weekend away – given we’ve spent well over 20 years in this crazy business, surprising him will not be that easy, but I love a challenge. We will write about (some of) it in April 2024 !
Maybe we’ll have a ski race to put the debate to bed once and for all…….