President, Owner | TravelAdvocates
After graduate school in 1999, Robert Miller, Esq. started planning tours for Trenton-based Starr Tours, before eventually moving to national sales for a publicly traded hotel company—which was later purchased by a private equity company. This led Miller to start TravelAdvocates in 2005, around the time of his law school completion.
As a startup business owner, Miller had to learn on the job—hiring and training staff, launching a website, etc.—though he had help. Most important though, Miller had to convince valued tour operators to use TravelAdvocates to book their hotels. Though he says it wasn't easy, Miller notes that nothing worth doing ever is.
Today, the pandemic proves that point even further. Miller and his husband Michael—an award-winning NYU pediatrician who left practicing medicine pre-COVID to join TravelAdvocates full-time—are remaining optimistic and still see the value in travel careers.
Due to the pandemic, many hotels have either closed for good or their staff have changed. Our operator customers rely on us to know which hotels are open and to get them info quickly, so knowing who to contact at each hotel is key. Notably, NYC expects 20% of their hotels never to reopen. Of course, that's sad, but new hotels continue to be built—giving us hope.
I thank God every day I'm in a position to help so many groups save time and money on their trips. Last year, I had to lead the company through its most challenging time. By being adaptive and expanding who we book hotels for, we were shockingly able to turn a profit in 2020. I thank my amazing team every day—if we could survive 2020, we can survive anything.
One of the greatest challenges facing our industry is brain drain. So many talented and experienced people have left our industry for others after being furloughed and permanently laid off. I think about the industry knowledge that's gone—that won't be back for another SYTA or ABA—and will be undoubtedly difficult to replace. That makes tour operators' jobs that much harder having to educate a new supplier contact, for example, on their specific needs and expectations. Tour operators are operating with fewer people doing the work of a once much larger team.
I believe we'll see many new faces the next time we step onto the tradeshow floor, and it'll be important to welcome them into our industry—our family—which desperately needs the best people to help group travel make its comeback.
ON POST-PANDEMIC OPPORTUNITIES
The biggest opportunity is the large pent-up demand of people simply wanting to leave their living room and travel. The pandemic will also offer the industry a chance to maintain new standards in health and safety with regards to cleaning, food and beverage execution and delivery, and the guest experience as a whole. Similarly, this is a great opportunity for the industry to evaluate tourism destination sustainability issues and the social and environmental effects that ensue. These are all topics our industry will need to address as we move forward.
ADVICE FOR NEWCOMERS
A career in travel enables you to positively influence countless lives. It's through travel that we continually learn about new cultures and ways of life, and that although we're different, we have so much in common. That's powerful stuff, regardless of whether you're working as a hotel front desk agent, tour bus driver or theater ticket taker. In travel, you get to connect with people in ways that enrich their life and make them smile. That's pretty cool when you think about it.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Jul/Aug 2021 issue of Groups Today.