On a random Friday at Los Gatos Travel, outside of San Jose, CA, a walk-in client who worked in Silicon Valley was looking for a vacation after retiring two days prior. Enter Michele Miller, a Los Gatos’ resident Africa expert; she promptly presented an over-the-top journey that had the man so enthused, he booked the $125,000 trip on the spot for his entire family.
“I hope I was chosen as a trendsetter for my creative ideas,” Miller says. “I swear I can’t sleep at night sometimes because my brain is always trying to come up with the next interesting thing [like hand-painting a gift involving her client’s destination]. Sometimes I drive myself crazy!”
Her ability to pitch and close such an extravagant sale in one afternoon means her creativity isn’t letting her down.
Prior to joining Los Gatos, Miller worked for a mom-and-pop agency, where she started by booking Happy Hops to Disneyland, and eventually upgraded to arranging independent trips to Europe, escorting group trips to Hong Kong, and working on the weekly ARC reports.
She has since been with Los Gatos for nearly 27 years, where her annual revenue is roughly $1.3 million. Los Gatos as a whole brings in $10 million annually. “My clients really run the gamut,” Miller says. “They are retired CEOs, start-up entrepreneurs, generational families, gay men, realtors, even priests. They all come with their own interesting set of stories.”
Miller sells luxury cruises, FITs and adventure travel to her broad range of clients, although her definitive specialty is African safari.
“For me, animals make my world go round, so it’s only natural that I would fall in love with Africa,” Miller says. “Traveling to Africa is such a life-altering experience, as those who have been there know. It gives me great pleasure planning tailor-made safaris for my clients and such gratification when I have an Africa convert.”
Her interest in Africa only came after a vacation to Tahiti. Miller realized she wasn’t traveling often enough, enrolled in a travel program at a local college, learned about Africa, and now she’s been there 10 times with another trip planned.
“Many years ago I had taken a small group to Kenya, and while we were staying at Finch Hattons Camp in Tsavo I struck up a conversation with a man in the next tent, who asked me if it was my first trip to Kenya. I proudly announced it was my fifth. He responded that he had put his group on a plane home and returned to the camp for a few days alone. It was his 82nd trip to Africa. I totally got it!”
She has her fingers crossed that she’ll come upon an African porcupine — one of the few animals that has eluded her on her journeys.
Her joy in what she does will push her business forward. “Perhaps my success is more about having a positive attitude and a smile on my face and in my voice, rather than any concrete plan,” she says.“Travel is an emotional decision for most people, and I love making my clients happy. It involves being a good listener and often reading between the lines. It can also be stressful to assume responsibility for someone else’s dreams and expectations.”
The creativity, the personal touches, the positive attitude — these attributes have made Miller the successful advisor that she is. In fact, most of her new business comes from word-of-mouth. “Referral is the key,” she says. “If my clients have an exceptional experience, the word gets out, and the new business flows.”