“Resourceful, creative and rather fearless” are the words we used to describe Malaka Hilton of Admiral Travel International when we featured her on our cover in April 2007, and from the likes of it, she’s retained those qualities since then. Her Sarasota, FL-based company has doubled the capacity of its escorted itineraries that include luxury experiences and access to unique products and experiences around the world, and its annual revenue has gone from $10 million eight years ago to more than $15 million.
“We were fortunate to weather the industry’s economic downturn in the late 2000s and are positioned better than ever today,” Hilton tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
Indeed, the Virtuoso agency still has a storefront location in downtown Sarasota, where she and her colleagues enjoy talking travel with walk-in customers, however, their bread and butter sales strategy is to focus on those clients who want the high-end services Admiral Travel provides. And most of them come via word of mouth, rather than through marketing.
“The knowledge our team possesses is increasingly valuable in a world where information is so readily accessible,” says Hilton. “The personal experiences and insider knowledge our advisors possess and provide — information that can’t always be found independently via Google! — create the key value we deliver to our clients.”
Case in point: Hilton and team recently hosted a trip to Tuscany where guests were “wowed” by wine tastings and classes with top Italian winemakers from legendary wineries including Frescobaldi, Antinori and Il Borro (Ferragamo).
“The grand finale was an intimate gathering, with just a handful of invited guests and winemakers, hosted by Sting and his wife Trudy at their private villa,” says Hilton.
She and her husband, Ryan, just took their children to Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast followed by a cruise on the Aqua Mekong after the conclusion of the Virtuoso Symposium in Hong Kong. This summer, they’re headed to South America to guide journeys through Machu Picchu, the Amazon and Galapagos. “We are so thankful for the travel opportunities working in this remarkable industry provides our family and team,” she says.
The hotel that’s impressed her the most recently is The Goring in London; she was invited with select travel advisors to its reopening, where they got to meet Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
That’s a heady experience for an agency owner whose business is enjoying a very successful era. Aside from its unique escorted programs mentioned above, Admiral Travel’s Africa department is also growing.
“My husband and business partner, Ryan, is from Africa,” notes Hilton. “Therefore, we’ve enjoyed a unique niche in this market for years, but we’re seeing increasing interest and bookings for luxury safari experiences in South Africa and emerging destinations in the region.”
Those who recall seeing the Hiltons on the road with their beautiful young children, Carter and Alexandria, will smile when they hear their oldest is starting high school in the fall.
As a result, “Ryan and I are focusing now more than ever on family travel with our children. We have a short window of travel opportunities before they leave home. But, of course, we hope we’ll have the chance to continue traveling together throughout their adult lives, similar to so many of our clients who participate in multigenerational trips with their entire families!” says Hilton.