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PSS Winter '12

Artisans of Leisure

by Whitman Littlefield ’11

Ashley Isaacs Ganz

Ashley Isaacs Ganz ’95 in Greece

Ashley Isaacs Ganz ’95 had her ‘ah-ha’ moment on her living room couch, which might seem like a strange place for a world traveler to have a revelation about life.

Working as an executive with an international tour operator, Ganz organized trips all over the world. But what should have been a dream job for the life-long cultural explorer, just didn’t feel right.

“We were not offering the level of luxury or cultural depth that I wanted to provide,” she explains. “I was struggling with it, until my husband asked, ‘Why don’t you create a company and do it the way you want?’ It was a light bulb moment; as soon as I thought about that possibility, I knew it was right and I never looked back.”

Ganz’s love of exploring new cultures and places began when she was a child and carried her through her college career. She focused her studies on sociology, education, and women’s studies at HWS before moving on to graduate studies at the New School for Social Research and the London School of Economics.

“I thought I was going to go into academia, and I was trying to pull together a lot of different fields that interested me,” says Ganz of her Ph.D. thesis on the history and sociology of luxury travel and consumer culture. “I didn’t want to just write about the industry; I wanted to be involved in a much more hands-on way.”

Buoyed by her husband’s support, Ganz quit her job, put her Ph.D. dissertation on hold, and established her own travel company: Artisans of Leisure. From there, things came together quickly. “Shortly after forming my company, Japan’s national tourism organization recommended us to the New York Times and Artisans of Leisure was featured in an article. And then my phone started ringing. A lot.”

With a team of eight travel planners, Artisans of Leisure creates highly personalized private tours for sophisticated, well-traveled and often demanding clients who expect only the finest hotels, touring with their own guides and drivers, and unique activities customized to their interests. The company’s tours emphasize culture and, as Ganz says, “all the little hidden gems we’ve discovered.”

“Recently, we had a family that wanted to go to Russia, but the daughter was captain of her tennis team and wanted to practice every day,” says Ganz. Not only was Artisans of Leisure able to find her space and time to practice, they managed to book a lesson with a Russian Olympic tennis player.

For a family traveling to Egypt, the company arranged for the 9-year-old, ancient Egypt-obsessed daughter to meet Zahi Hawass. In another instance, Artisans of Leisure clients met with the King and Queen of Bhutan during a private tour of the Himalayas.

“I really feel that travel should be about enlightening experiences, but it should be fun, too,” says Ganz. “Running Artisans of Leisure, I feel like I’m still in academia—researching, learning and teaching on a daily basis while also redefining luxury travel.”