Trendsetter: Mike Distler, Admiral Travel International

Mike Distler
Admiral Travel International

Michael Distler, this year’s trendsetter for Admiral Travel International, is working on a most unusual itinerary at the moment.

“It includes the annual fruit bat migration in Kasanka National Park in Zambia, which is accessible only by chartered flight or very long drives, followed by a great new Norman Carr Safaris property in the remote west of the country, which is home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa. This itinerary would be entirely unacceptable and unenjoyable to 99 percent of our clients, but will be nothing short of magic for this one specific traveler,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Being on the cusp of new properties and destinations is clearly what helps this luxury travel advisor thrive. An 11-year veteran of the industry, he garners more than $2 million a year in revenue and that excludes air. Having a very specific niche doesn’t hurt either. Distler strictly sells Africa, with a focus on the photographic safari experience. He says he does not sell pre-packaged tours to the continent because Africa has such amazing and varied product offerings. 

“I couldn’t fathom speaking with guests for 15 minutes and saying, ‘Here is Package A, this is what I think you should do.’ Every single itinerary I plan is unique and tailored specifically to the travelers I am working with,” he tells us.

Initial educational client meetings typically run more than an hour as he tries to learn as much about them as possible. “It would be unusual for me to even discuss any specific properties during that first meeting. It’s a labor-intensive approach to the planning process, but the end result is so much stronger when travelers are making educated decisions through an interactive process for a truly bespoke itinerary,” says Distler, who lives in Sarasota, FL with his wife, two daughters and dog.

Distler started his career as a travel advisor following a chance connection through a department head of Florida State University and Malaka Hilton, the owner of Admiral Travel International, which pulls in a total of $14 million in revenue a year. Distler says, at Admiral, he’s encouraged to think outside the box. This works well for his clients, who tend to be affluent retirees or nearly retired. The agency is also now working with many multigenerational families and younger couples, he notes.

Word of mouth has helped him grow a strong local and international client base as those returning from a life-changing safari often start planning their next trip to Africa and are very quick to refer friends and family to him.

“I believe every trip I plan holds the potential to be the very best travel experience a traveler has ever encountered. Anything short of that outcome is a missed opportunity,” says Distler.

Tip: For those headed to Africa, Distler recommends reading “The Full Circle” by Dave Varty “for a great overview of how the safari experience has developed over the years to what it is today.”

For the long plane ride home? “A great fun read for all travelers that will have them fondly recalling their safari experience is ‘Whatever You Do, Don’t Run’ by Peter Allison,” he says.  

Trendsetter: Mike Distler, Admiral Travel International

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