Luxury Travel Advisor — June 2011
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Hometown Luxury
Ruthanne Terrero

Minnetonka Travel & Cruises engages clients and
suppliers with local warmth and flair.

Travel for Roger Miller, CEO
of Minnetonka Travel &
Cruises, has always served as
an escape, in the true sense
of the word. His father began
taking the family on a steady
stream of vacations when he saw that the
family lake house in Minnesota had become
too much of a resort for friends visiting from
the nearby Twin Cities.
“Our guests would arrive at the lake house
even before we did. They’d be out water skiing
while we were mowing the lawn,” Miller
tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “So, as a family,
very early, we did amazing road trips all
across the U.S.”
The love of travel entrenched in his soul,
Miller took his own children on 12 vacations
a year, after his local school superintendent
concurred that going to places like Greece
and Rio would provide much more insight
than studying about them in a classroom.
But Miller, like his father, was seeking to
escape from a domestic scenario: which for
him, involved a house full of active teenagers.
Whenever he got wind that a potentially
rowdy event was brewing on his teens’ social
scene, Miller would whisk the entire family
away for the weekend. The kids never realized
they were traveling so that they’d avoid
getting into mischief. Because his wife Lenore
worked for Northwest Airlines, they could
easily travel afar from Minnesota, to cities
like San Francisco.
“It was somewhat self-defense, but it
became a great means to see much of the
world,” Miller says with a laugh. It all worked
like a well-devised plan; his children fell in
love with travel as well.
In fact, Miller’s daughter, Jennifer, is now
president of the agency, working her way
up in the business after she returned from
college. Minnetonka Travel & Cruises today
is indeed a family affair; Miller’s wife and
son-in-law also work at the agency, which
serves an ultra-affluent community in Wayzata,
MN. If you haven’t heard of it, idyllic
Wayzata is just 11 miles from downtown
Minneapolis. Miller likens its vibe to the
well-toned Greenwich, CT, where neighbors
have larger-than-life homes in a picturesque
waterside setting. Minnetonka Travel is set on
the shores of Lake Minnetonka, a vacation
spot that draws tourists to a super-friendly,
polished community.
Over the 35 years it’s been in existence,
the agency has always positioned itself as the
hometown travel agency. “We use it as our
strength,” says Miller. “So instead of having
phone calls go to a voice menu program, we
have a receptionist, who is a person that our
clients know very well. That creates a good
feeling,” he says. “People want to have trust
when they’re planning a luxury vacation. In
our relationships with our clients, we listen
very closely to their requests to try to create
their dream vacations.”
Focus on the Community
As Miller developed the luxury aspect of his
agency, he said, his original goal was never
to be the largest, but “hopefully to develop
like an extremely good restaurant, to be one
of the very best, and we focus directly on our
own community—I really like being here.”
The agency, which is also next to a historical
train depot, has plenty of storefront
parking, making it easy for clients to drive
over to plan their trips. And what trips they
are! It’s not unusual for the itineraries Miller
and his travel advisors devise to run in the
$100,000 to $200,000 range. The agency has
just arranged a 120-day Seabourn cruise for
one treasured client. But there's more.
It also recently created a program for a
group of friends, each flying to Switzerland in
their own airplane to stay in a castle. (Miller
and his family are very fond of alpine regions;
in fact, they own a home in Austria in the
area that sits right where the opening scene of
The Sound of Music was filmed. He calls it
“our happy place.”)
“The castle itself was an unbelievable experience
of a lifetime. It was dinner every night
in the castle with beautiful outings that went
along with it; this was a fantastic experience
for every one of these families," says Miller,
who also just recently rented a cow to be waiting
for a family on the lawn of a magnificent
chalet in Grindelwald, Switzerland.
Another client took 30 people to Alaska
for his birthday. The detailed itinerary traversed the entire state. Another requested to visit all seven continents on one trip.
The agency had also just arranged a destination
wedding in Mauritius when Luxury
Travel Advisor spoke with Miller for this
article, but booking destination weddings
and other high-end itineraries that include
world-class villas and resorts are not an unusual
event for the company.
“We do a lot of destination weddings
all over the world, as well as honeymoons,
family vacations and family reunions,” says
Miller. “It’s quite a variety of products.”
Minnetonka Travel also likes to surprise
its clients with destinations that are new to
them; one of its favorites is Aitutaki, considered
the “blue lagoon” in the Cook Islands.
“It’s a very beautiful, spectacular island; a
great place to visit there is One Foot Island,”
says Miller, who adds he has a fondness for
the South Pacific.
The agency’s Minnesota location also
helps to encourage travel. “Our long winters
up here in Minnesota are perfect for vacation
travel,” Miller says. “It encourages people to
book early.”
Miller, a veteran of Northwest Airlines
who started the agency with a dear friend 35
years ago before buying him out after a time,
took a grassroots approach to selling travel
when he realized the Internet might become a
challenge to travel advisors.
“We were all trying to identify what the
Internet really meant. I reversed things and
went back to becoming extremely involved
within my own community,” he says. Because
his agency is very close to the downtown
Minneapolis area, he had a big nucleus of
people to draw from, but Miller is also well
known in Wayzata itself. In fact, he’s been
named “Person of the Year” for the area. He
also serves on a number of boards, including
those for his bank, his country club, his
school and his church. Miller is also frequently
invited to appear in TV interviews about
travel in the Minneapolis area. “That helps to
add strength to our business as well,” he says.
An award-winning golfer, Miller is a
former director of the Minnesota Golf Association, which brings in clients from the sports and media world. “My interest in golf
has been really helpful in developing our
business,” says Miller. Hint: To welcome the
golfers among his clients, he’s added a putting
green to the agency’s layout.
Today, Minnetonka Travel has 11 luxury
travel advisors in an office that’s quite closely
knit. “We focus on what we are doing right.
At the end of the day, we celebrate what we
have been able to accomplish, which is really
fun. It keeps the morale very high for all
of our employees,” says Miller, who credits
Lenore for being an excellent travel advisor.
“A lot of [her clients] come in having no
idea that they are about to leave for a trip.
They start with an idea and by the time
they’re done, they’re going away that weekend,”
says Miller. “This is a very unusual
group of salespeople.”
One of Miller’s strategies is to think
of each advisor as a manager in the area
they’re best at selling. “Each one finds the
areas they are most gifted and talented in
and then we try to match that up with our
clients,” he says.
His advisors also travel quite a lot. “That
certainly helps because clients can really tell
how well they really know the product,” says
Miller. “With the luxury product, you need
substantial trust of your clients; they have to
feel at home with us. We really have to listen
and give them as much as we can.”
Education goes on internally at morning
meetings around the conference table where
everyone shares ideas. Fridays are used to celebrate
a toast to the agency’s successes. Nice
Touch: Whoever had the biggest sales for the
week gets to select the wine.
Miller, who worked at Northwest Airlines
for 10 years, is very cognizant of the importance
of travel suppliers to the business. In
fact, he doesn’t understand why, in some
instances, travel advisors in some agencies are
rude to suppliers. “They don’t respect what
they are bringing to us. My goodness, we
have great opportunities to learn more from
our representatives who help encourage our
sales and reach our goals,” says Miller. He
recalls that, when at Northwest, he’d often
drive around the block a few times before
pulling up to certain travel agencies so he
could be mentally prepared for what awaited
him, such as complaints that an agent didn’t
get a window seat on a recent flight. “Some
just didn’t seem to appreciate us as a supplier
and I thought how unfortunate it was
that they didn’t realize all of the things I
could share with them to make them a better
agency,” he says.
Over recent years, Minnetonka Travel
& Cruises has become a top producer for
Seabourn, Tauck, Classic Vacations and Delta
Vacations. The agency is also a top producer
for its consortium, Vacation.com, of which
Miller is a founding national advisory board
member and a national director. For that reason,
it's no surprise that Minnetonka Travel
focuses on Vacation.com’s preferred suppliers.
“I follow our Vacation.com program to
the last inch,” he says, noting that by doing
this, the agency recently tripled its business
with Delta Vacations. “We have learned their
destinations very well and we are now high in
their system. They’ve been extremely good to
help us with our clients. It’s all about building
relationships.”
Hands-on Approach
Overall, Miller, as a luxury travel advisor,
is pleased with Vacation.com’s array of
products. “I think they give us every option
through their relationships with suppliers,”
he says.
As a national director of Vacation.com,
Miller works on a hands-on basis with the
group's agencies. “I actually fly out to visit a
number of members throughout the season
to see what’s working in other areas in the
country. It’s very helpful to go to Dallas,
Texas or Kansas City, Atlanta, or Hartford
to see what’s actually working there,” says
Miller, who also speaks to other Vacation.
com board members frequently. “It gives me
great ideas to hopefully do a great job for our
client base as well.”
To strengthen his relationships with
suppliers, Miller and his staff attend Luxury
Travel Expo in Las Vegas (organized by
Questex Media, which owns Luxury Travel
Advisor). “I was very impressed with the
trade show; it was magnificent,” he says.
They also attend Vacation.com’s annual
conference where they get to know the principal players at the supplier companies.
“It’s extremely important to be able to
do special things for our clients and to make
sure they not only take one trip with us, but
more,” he says. In fact, Miller believes that
the more details you’re able to add to an itinerary,
the better. “At our agency, we kind of
relive the itineraries as each client is traveling;
we are thinking about them constantly and
it’s quite a special feeling. It feels like you are
on the trip yourself.”
'A Very Happy Business'
An open-office environment and ClientBase
help all of the agency’s advisors to know each
other’s clients so they can all jump in and
assist when needed.
“So, we get a lot of calls from people saying,
‘This is amazing, you have done a great
job,’ and that make to us feel so terrific. I
can’t tell you, it’s the best,” says Miller. “This
is a very happy business and I think it all
depends on how you approach it. You will always
have somebody that seems to find some
faults, somewhere down the road. We really
focus very much on what we are doing right.”
Keeping things positive is a coach whom
Miller hired to train the staff; he was so successful,
he now has a desk at Minnetonka
Travel. “It’s important to feel positive and to
not have a Monday-to-Friday syndrome, that
you come to work with a feeling of wanting
to be there. I am sure it reflects in dealing
with your clients. I see a lot of smiling faces
right now in our office, which is totally full,”
Miller tells Luxury Travel Advisor as he sat in
his office, which, true to style, has glass walls
so he can be a part of the open environment.
The décor of the office is of vital important
to Miller, who has attractive lamps on
each desk and original paintings adorning the
walls. He also has a huge Northwest Airlines
747 in the midst, which draws comments
from clients and suppliers alike.
“Along with being right on the lake, our
office is kind of unique. So many people are
tucked away in an office building setting, but
this is just kind a little hometown product.”
If he had it to do over, Miller says he
wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s a very friendly setting and we have
got an amazing group of people that we work
with. We really like being here; it’s really fun.
I would without question select the same
path and do this all over,” he tells Luxury
Travel Advisor.
“We are involved in something that’s
really terrific; we help create dreams for
people. We try to make amazing things happen
and hopefully exceed our clients’ expectations.
That’s our goal. For us, failure is not
an option. You have to somehow help these
people find something that will be above
and beyond what they are even thinking of.
So, if you can in any way encourage them to
go a step beyond their budget and to try and
get a just little higher in the category they’re
looking at, it brings tremendous rewards,”
he says.
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