Miriam Rand’s office is a treasure-trove of memorabilia, ornamented with unique keepsakes acquired throughout her 57-year career as a travel advisor. Among the gems found in her Protravel International (nee Rand-Fields Travel Service) base in Beverly Hills, CA are framed letters from former president Bill Clinton and California Representative Henry Waxman, as well as a proclamation of Miriam Rand Day from the Mayor of Beverly Hills, and glass-encased model cruise ships.
But perhaps the most telling of all is the collection of swollen Rolodexes—there are easily 20, and that’s counting only the ones in plain sight—that not only occupies its own wall, but also a portion of an adjacent shelving unit. It’s a veritable paper trail of the relationships, whether professional or personal—sometimes both—Rand has cultivated in the travel business throughout her storied career. (Cheryl Donnelly, a travel consultant who works alongside Rand in the Wilshire Boulevard space, says that “One or another of the shelves collapses [under the weight] from time to time and has to be reattached to the wall!”) As one might imagine, this display of mementos makes it particularly difficult to believe that Rand didn’t always have her sights set on the travel business.
A New York City native, Rand wanted to teach Latin and Greek in the city’s school system, but after graduation her plan was derailed upon discovering that few, if any, such jobs existed. So instead, Rand pursued a master’s degree at Teacher’s College of Columbia University, upon whose completion in 1937 she received offers to teach, but outside of New York. This time, however, it was a New York City love interest, Howard Rand, that won her heart. Rand opted to stay in New York City—completing a secretarial course and working her way upward through the ranks of various companies—where the pair were married in 1942.
Not long after, Howard Rand was, as Rand puts it, “invited by Uncle Sam to join the war and come out to California.” So the couple relocated to Orange County, where Rand used the secretarial skills she acquired in New York to land a job with a shipbuilding firm in Newport Beach, a position she held while husband Howard was stationed with the army in Europe. Upon his return to California, Howard Rand, whose own background was rooted in the hospitality industry (in the late-1940s, he temporarily managed the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas following the slaying of its proprietor, legendary mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel), voiced his desire to go back to New York—but not without resistance from Rand.
The couple were content to stay put, but after three or four years managing hotels in Southern California, Howard Rand grew tired of the frequent movement that resulted from the constant building, buying and selling of hotels, and began considering other options. Few proved to be practical. “If bed-and-breakfasts had been popular at the time, I think we would’ve gotten into that, but that wasn’t the case then,” Rand says. “And we didn’t have enough money to buy a big hotel.”
That’s when fate took an interesting turn. “My husband had done a lot of business with travel agents in trying to promote the hotels he was running,” Rand says. “So he said, ‘Why don’t we go into the travel business?’” And so it was, in 1949, that Rand-Fields Travel Service was born (Leo Fields, a close friend of the Rands, was named a partner in the venture, but passed away shortly after its launch; the Rands kept the original name of the company).
Getting the business off the ground wasn’t an easy task, but one that proved fruitful. “It took us about two years to get all of our appointments; it wasn’t easy in those days, but because of our contacts with the hotels we had a good base of clients,” Rand says. “We built up a nice business, and were very successful.”
Aside from this observation, Rand is tight-lipped about her experiences with celebrity clients (although one rumor purports that the square-shooting Rand, who is known in part for the straightforward delivery of her opinions, once “fired” a beloved American actor from her database of clients after becoming fed up with his tardy tendencies when it came to paying his bill). When asked to recount some of her more memorable experiences, Rand says, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to. People often say to me, ‘You should write a book about it,’ but I don’t believe in kissing and telling.”
Rand’s initial success in booking travel is especially remarkable (and her tenacity evident) considering the tools—or lack thereof—that were available then versus those that today’s travel agents rely on so regularly. “It was tough then; we used mainly only the telephone,” Rand says. “When there were airline strikes, we didn’t have a computer to work with, rather just the telephone. Sometimes my husband and I would take home all of the bookings we were trying to clear, and finally, at 2 a.m., we would reach the supervisor of an airline who would clear it for us.”
(“As you can see, I’m still old-fashioned,” Rand says, motioning toward the wall of Rolodexes, and then to a tape recorder on her desk, which she says she still uses to dictate notes to herself.)
Armed with a base of loyal clients who reaped the benefits of Rand’s incessant efforts, the couple’s business flourished.
In a few years’ time, however, things began to change, first with the passing of Howard Rand in 1970, after which Rand carried on the business by herself, and, subsequently, the introduction of computers onto the travel-booking scene. “I was running this business on my own, and then airlines started to cut their commissions,” Rand says. “And with computers now in the picture, you could become so much bigger because you could do so many more bookings. I realized it was going to be very difficult to keep up.” So, after the start of the new millennium, with a lease that was about to expire, Rand began considering some advice given to her by long-time friend Stan Rosen, who had sold his own agency, Travelways, to Protravel International in 1999.
“In discussing with Miriam many times my satisfaction and delight with my decision to sell—and the respect and admiration I had for Protravel—Miriam began to mention that she too was questioning remaining independent and that she was beginning to tire of ownership responsibilities,” Rosen says. “I suggested she speak with [Protravel President] Priscilla Alexander about the possibility of Protravel purchasing her business as well.”
“People often said to me, ‘You and Miriam should get to know each other and find a way to work together.’ But if you know Miriam, you know she’s not the type of person with whom you just jump into a conversation like that,” Alexander says, recounting how the two established their now precious relationship. “Eventually, we ended up at the same event. I walked over to Miriam to say hello, and, with a little trepidation, said, ‘Everybody says we should meet and find a way to work together, but I suspect if that’s what you wanted to do, you’d call me. I’m going to leave it at that.’ Miriam looked at me, then broke out in a smile and said, ‘I know where to reach you.’”
And that’s just what she did. In 2002, Rand sold the company she’d built with her husband from the ground up to Protravel, a decision she says made complete sense. “I don’t have the headaches of running a business anymore,” Rand says. “Some of it I miss some days, but I’m treated very well and get a great deal of respect.”
The respect Rand gets isn’t limited to those who work under the Protravel umbrella, however. It’s a shared sentiment among those with whom she’s worked or been associated along the way. “Miriam has always been one of those people everyone just sort of knew about somehow,” says Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch, who has known Rand since Rand-Fields Travel Service became a member of API (API was renamed Virtuoso in 2000). “There was a point when, if you hadn’t heard of Miriam Rand and Rand-Fields Travel Service, you didn’t know what the hell you were doing in luxury travel.”
Upchurch says the high regard in which Rand’s peers hold her was particularly evident at the 50th anniversary celebration for Rand-Fields Travel Service in February 1999. “The most unbelievable array of people showed up at that event to pay their respects to Miriam. It was really astonishing,” says Upchurch, who also cites Rand’s no-bull personality as one of her most admirable traits.
“One of my favorite, funniest memories of Miriam is from that party,” Upchurch says. “The room was full of VIPs, presidents of companies and lifelong friends of hers, and I was seated next to her. After one guest finished a toast to Miriam, I said to her, ‘You know, Miriam, I’m just so honored to be here. I can’t believe I’m sitting here next to you in this room full of people.’ Miriam just turned to me and said, ‘Oh, Matthew, get over yourself.’ And that’s Miriam,” he laughs.
Contrary to her tell-it-like-it-is personality, Upchurch says that Rand has also been a confidante and mentor, playing a vital role in API’s—eventually Virtuoso’s—growth as a member of the consortium’s hotel committee alongside Barbara Gallay and the late David Panzer. “Miriam truly helped Virtuoso build our hotel program and establish our brand,” Upchurch says. “We’re very grateful to her.”
Another sector of luxury travel that has benefited from Rand’s handiwork and know-how is the cruise industry, a category she names as one of her personal favorites. In fact, in 1999, in honor of Rand-Fields Travel Service’s 50th anniversary and in appreciation of Rand’s continued dedication and production of volume for their company, Crystal Cruises named Rand an honorary captain, the first and only in the company’s history. (A neatly pressed captain’s jacket—sealed in a glass display case—hangs front and center in Rand’s office, another visible token of the travel community’s appreciation for her lifelong commitment and service.)
“That was a really fun and appropriate thing Crystal did for Miriam,” says Bill Smith, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Crystal Cruises. “It was a way of honoring her in some small manner, because there’s little you can do to thank someone like her but to give her something that nobody else has ever had.”
Mimi Weisband, vice president of public relations for Crystal Cruises, says that Rand continues to be a top-producing travel agent for the company—and a successful luxury travel advisor—because of her dedication to staying abreast of the travel industry’s offerings as a whole. “What’s incredible is how contemporary she is,” Weisband says. “She knows about all the luxury products, and she’s out there doing the leg work herself.” Weisband recalls Virtuoso’s charter aboard Crystal Symphony in 2005, at the end of which some attendees stayed to have lunch on the ship. “I saw Miriam at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale at 2:30 that afternoon. I asked her how lunch was, when, it turns out, she hadn’t stayed on board for lunch at all; she’d already been to Miami and back, fresh from four site inspections!” (Weisband recalls that their return flight to Los Angeles that Thursday night was delayed. “While waiting for our luggage at LAX late that night, I asked Miriam, “What are you going to do tomorrow?’ She said, ‘I’m going to work, aren’t you?’ When I said yes, Miriam replied, “Well, what are you asking me for then?’ That’s typical Miriam.”)
Priscilla Alexander agrees that Rand’s success is due in large part to her constantly up-to-date knowledge of the travel industry, but says that Rand’s more active endeavors are what mean the most to her. “She’s as concerned about the world she lives in as would be any 20-year-old woman,” Alexander says. “I know no one who works any harder than she at maintaining a lively interest in all aspects of travel.”
When asked whether she plans to hang her hat any time soon, Rand says, “I just go from day to day. If one day I wake up and decide I’m tired of all the cancellations and changes, I’ll stop. But until then, or as long as I can carry on up here (taps on the top of her head with a bejeweled finger), I’m staying put.”
Lighting The Way For Young Travelers
True to her reputed aversion to self-centered pageantry, when approached by friends and colleagues about having a lavish party in honor of her 90th birthday in April 2006, Miriam Rand simply said, “No thanks.”
So instead, not satisfied to let the occasion pass without some sort of celebration, long-time friend and Protravel International President Priscilla Alexander was determined to come up with a plan that involved simultaneously celebrating Rand’s birthday and making yet another contribution to the travel community in her honor. So, Alexander established the Miriam Rand Scholarship Fund at Hunter College High School (the New York City merit high school is Rand’s alma mater), the initial contributions to which would come from the sale of tables at Rand’s May 11 gala celebration—whose theme is “The First Lady of Luxury Travel”—at the Beverly Hilton hotel in her adoptive hometown, Beverly Hills, CA.
“Not surprisingly, Miriam didn’t want to have a party just to have one,” Alexander says. “So we decided to make it a charitable cause, and that was okay with her.”
Traditionally, during the senior year at Hunter College High School, qualified students are eligible to take a school-sponsored educational trip. Money contributed to Rand’s namesake scholarship annually will enable a graduating senior to participate in the trip who otherwise might not be able to cover the cost.
“Miriam is a well-educated woman and is genuinely concerned about education in the United States. She’s also very proud to have attended Hunter College High School,” Alexander says. “Creating this scholarship was the natural thing to do. This scholarship will open up the world of travel to a student who might otherwise have missed out on the experience, or who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel on his or her own.”
Travel consultant Naomi Childs, pictured with Rand in the office, is one of many devoted colleagues.
Travel Consultant Cheryl Donnelly with Rand in their Wilshire Boulevard office.
One apparent measure of Rand-Fields Travel Service’s early success was its roster of A-list clients, including Bette Davis, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, whose business Rand acquired through her professional relationships with Hollywood’s theatrical agencies (the Rands’ company handled travel planning for the big-hitting William Morris Agency for 35 years, as well as Creative Artists Agency). Rand adds, “If they [the celebrity clients] liked doing business with you, they’d continue using your services in booking their own personal travels. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.”
Miriam Rand talks travel with consultants in Protravel’s Beverly Hills space; Rand is known for sharing her always-up-to-date knowledge with colleagues.
“I didn’t want to go back. I had fallen in love with Southern California—the weather, everything about it—I just thought it was wonderful,” Rand says. “I said to my husband, ‘Why don’t you go out and see if you can find a job here?’ So he did, and within an hour’s time he came back, and he had a job.”
“Actually, I was a major in Latin and Greek,” Rand says of her studies at Barnard College in New York City, which culminated in a B.A. from the school in 1936 (a feat perhaps not uncommon by today’s standards, but very much so in Depression-era America when most women didn’t even consider going to college).