The travel business found Linda Silver, and she accepted the challenge readily. Self-taught and self-motivated, she’s created a business model that reflects her personality.
It all sprang from her own travels.
“In the 80’s I was traveling like crazy with my family. I was taking my mom, dad and kids all over the world, having these amazing experiences. My friends and I laugh about it now. They were young professionals at the time, very much into stocks, bonds and 401Ks. The market crashed and my friends lost everything, but I still have memories,” said Silver.
She also launched a career.
“People started asking me to help with their trips. I started helping them and they would tell their friends. It just grew,” said the Los Angeles-based Silver.
She began using the moniker “The Travel Stylist,” to describe her hands-on approach.
“I do every thing from dinners to spas and tours. I’m styling your whole trip, planning activities around the things you love to do,” said Silver.
Eight years ago, she affiliated with Miami-based Forest Travel, a Virtuoso agency.
“They’re an amazing company with lots of professionals working in different areas. They let me do my own thing, which is great,” said Silver.
Her “own thing” is bespoke trip planning for a loyal roster of upscale clients.
“Once I get a client, I don’t lose them. They’re the type of people that can afford to go wherever I tell them to go,” said Silver.
These days, she’s telling people to go to Africa, one of her favorite destinations. Southeast Asia is another popular option. In Europe, she’s booking a lot of Paris, London, Amsterdam and Rome.
Sicily is a newfound specialty.
“I’ve been selling Europe for years. All of a sudden, I decided I wanted to sell Sicily. I had never been, so I went. Once I started telling my clients I was going, it generated interest. When I was there, I would email a picture of 20 cannoli to the foodies. Now I’m selling tons of Sicily because clients know I will get them the best rooms, excursions and gelato,” said Silver.
One thing she won’t actively promote is a cruise vacation.
“I’m a land specialist. I don’t understand cruises. I don’t want you to get off in a city for half a day. I love the history and culture of traveling. I want my clients to really explore what there is to see and do in a destination,” she said.
Though Silver’s “travel styling” borders on micromanagement, it’s a formula that works.
“It’s not just about selling a trip, it’s about managing the whole trip. I ask my onsite to report to me every other day. I want a quick email of how things are going. For example, did the clients leave an excursion early; did the kids decide to stay by the pool all day? I watch the ebb and flow of the trip so that there are no surprises,” said Silver.
Managing the workflow takes discipline.
“I have a dedicated area in my home where I work. I get up, take a shower and put makeup on. I don’t do laundry, and I don’t cook. It’s a work day,” said Silver.
Those days begin usually by 4:30 a.m. with international phone calls.
“After my phone calls, I answer all my emails, then I take my dog for a walk and regroup. Then, I come back and the West Coast is calling me till 8 p.m. at night,” said Silver.
Still, she considers herself lucky.
“I’ve put two kids through college. I take care of my parents. I don’t think I’m a superstar by any means. But, you can do it all in this business. I have a great network of colleagues that I can turn to. We help each other out, and that’s the great thing about being in travel,” said Silver.
Thanks to word of mouth, Silver usually gets a few new referrals each month. She interviews the prospective clients by phone, asking them to talk about themselves. It’s a crucial part of customizing each trip.
“I put so much time into a booking. It would be really easy to go into a GDS. But there are things that can only be done with a personal phone call. I have clients who won’t stay in a room if the shower is inside the tub. You have to get on the phone to the GM for that kind of detail,” said Silver.
She will sometimes charge a consulting fee if a booking is especially complicated. Some trips can take months to plan, such as an east Africa trip where the client wants to visit schools along the way.
Her marketing efforts are primarily word-of-mouth.
She does post on personal and office Facebook accounts when she’s traveling. But she readily admits she “doesn’t know how to Tweet.”
Instead, she uses the phone to keep clients up-to-date.
“I have some clients that I’ve worked with for 20 years, but never met. That’s okay, because we have an amazing phone rapport. You can’t get that from an email,” said Silver.
“I can send you an email that says, ‘I just came back from Italy.’ I can put a lot of emojis in it. But it’s more meaningful to speak by phone. I’m selling expensive, exclusive travel. My clients want to hear about my experiences,” said Silver.
One experience Silver looks forward to each year is Virtuoso’s Travel Week.
“It’s the most glorious cocktail party that doesn’t end. You see people you work with from around the world. You meet other colleagues, which is another advantage. We all have a lot in common, we share travel stories,” said Silver.
This year, Silver plans to travel to a new beach lodge in Africa. She’s also going to Myanmar.
“I’m very fanatical about peace, tolerance and acceptance. I believe the more you travel, the more understanding you are about other people. That’s a philosophy I like to spread in my work,” said Silver.
Travel, she adds, “was my passion and love before I was doing it for a living. I’m the happiest girl in the world.”