The Grand Connection is AOT’s profile series designed to connect Arizona’s tourism industry through the experiences and insights of those who drive it. We’ll include leaders, but these profiles aren’t limited to only those in the executive office. We’re striving to bring you perspectives from all across our amazingly diverse industry. Everyone has something to share and an experience from which we all can learn.



Karen Cahn’s career in tourism and hospitality spans more than two decades and has afforded her the opportunity to learn how the industry operates from numerous viewpoints.

The skills she’s developed and relationships she’s fostered while serving in several leadership roles have all combined to drive her success in her current role, as director of PR & marketing communications for the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.

In this month’s Grand Connection profile, Karen shares the fun she gets to have in building unique experiences for Westin Kierland guests, why the industry should focus on sustainable experiences and how she became a strong advocate for helping Arizonans battle sex trafficking.


Your tourism and hospitality career has included airlines, the state tourism office, agency work, industry advocacy and now marketing an amazing resort. How have you been able to utilize these experiences to help you succeed in your current role?

Throughout my career, each position has enriched me with invaluable experiences. From selling vacation packages to understanding destination marketing and collaboration at AOT, I’ve gained diverse insights. Agency work honed my marketing skills, enabling me to effectively promote our resort. The extensive network I’ve cultivated within and beyond the industry, empowers me to forge strategic partnerships and seize growth opportunities.

I’m grateful for the journey that led me here, enabling me to make meaningful contributions to our resort’s success and the tourism industry as a whole.


You currently serve as director of PR & Marketing Communications for The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. What is something about your current role that would surprise people?

One unique aspect of my role is overseeing the development of our exclusive offering, Kierland After Dark, in collaboration with our General Manager, Derek Ellis.

We have built this from the ground up, creating one-of-a-kind social gatherings centered around music. Watching a packed house of hotel guests and locals singing, dancing, and indulging in food and drinks is incredibly fulfilling. It’s an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience to bring people together for unforgettable nights of entertainment.


In addition to your PR role with Westin Kierland, you also do community outreach for the SAFE Action Project. Can you share a bit about why you volunteer your time for this work and why this training is so important for people across the tourism industry? 

I first learned about sex trafficking prior to the 2015 Super Bowl. The ugliness of this crime and the victims trapped in our communities struck me to the core. As a parent, I couldn’t help but imagine the nightmare if my daughter fell into the hands of a trafficker. I understood how vulnerabilities could lead someone to this desperate life, only to realize the torturous reality too late.

Through my roles in the tourism industry, I’ve conducted this training, leaving participants in disbelief that such atrocities occur, even within our hotels. The training raises awareness and empowers individuals to identify and assist victims who may be unable to help themselves.


When is the next opportunity to participate in SAFE Action Project training?

The upcoming SAFE training is during the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Monday, July 10, at 1:30 p.m. Thank you to AOT for providing this training.

Attendance is encouraged, but if you’re unable to attend, we recommend scheduling training for your organization. It’s crucial for the tourism industry to learn how to identify, report, and prevent sex trafficking, as this crime, unfortunately, intersects with tourism in Arizona. Together, we can make a difference and help one victim at a time.


From your perspective, what opportunities should Arizona’s tourism industry pursue during the next 5 years?

Drawing from my experience at AOT, I understand the challenges of showcasing everything Arizona has to offer. I commend AOT for effectively narrowing down the key pillars to attract tourism resulting in impressive numbers and the emergence of new markets.

However, it’s essential that we maintain focus on the sustainability of tourism through initiatives like AppreciateAZ. Visitors appreciate the cleanliness, ease of navigation, and immediate sense of vacation upon arrival. We must uphold these foundational attributes while adapting to evolving tourist interests. This includes recognizing the growing demand for wellness offerings among travelers and locals.


Which Arizona tourism experience (that you haven’t had yet) are you looking forward to doing?

I’m particularly excited to delve deeper into the local culinary scene, explore the captivating small towns scattered across our state, and venture into the awe-inspiring Antelope Canyon.