After spending a morning with Robert Malmberg, it's easy to see why he is at the very top of his game. His genuine enthusiasm, not just for travel but for meeting and exceeding the expectations of his clients, is evident the minute he begins to speak.
"I work in the good-time industry," says Malmberg with a smile, eagerly diving into what has become the basis for his company. "No product is going to please all travelers, all of the time. You have to figure out what pushes their buttons." Robert Malmberg
As the president and founder of Boston-based Malmberg Travel Companies, which specializes in ultra-upscale leisure and corporate travel, Malmberg has more than 50 years of professional travel experience and has been honored with countless industry accolades. He owes the majority of his success to his knack for really getting to know his clients, hearing what they want, and then using his intuition to build a trip that will far surpass anything clients may have dreamed up on their own.
"You've got to ask lots of questions," he says, to really gain an understanding of what kind of trip to build. "'Have you traveled a great deal? Why are you taking this trip?' Is your client trying to build memories for a family, or are they trying to heal a broken heart?"
Malmberg Travel, a member of the exclusive Virtuoso Network, serves only elite clientele; the trips he designs are in the $100,000 range. He says that his clientele are the type of people who want the very best, and for whom money is no object.
"They know that the money is not doing them any good sitting in their pocket. We charge a lot," he notes, "but we deliver."
Building Client Relationships
How does an agency gain that caliber of clientele? For Malmberg, a lot of it has to do with gaining people's trust.
His relationship with his clients is far from that of a typical travel agent; Malmberg has worked with the same families over decades, and addresses his clients by nicknames.
During our visit, he described calling a couple to wish them well as they embarked on a world cruise and said that he knows his clients on personal levels, to the point of consoling families through death and other sad times. Needless to say, a lot of his clients have become close friends over time, and Malmberg has enjoyed taking trips with them over the years. He reports that most of his new customers are drawn to him by word-of-mouth advertising.
He also gains trust by managing and exceeding expectations, which to Malmberg and his employees (he employs a close-knit handful of experienced agents, and says he has very low turnover) mean consistently delivering dream vacations.
For instance, he describes situations where a wealthy family will say they want to take an African safari. Malmberg will deliver that safari—and more. When the group stops for lunch, an elegantly prepared picnic of their favorite foods will be waiting for them, complete with the client's scotch of choice.
"It's all about handling those small details. I ask a lot of questions," he shares, noting that branding also plays a role. "The cocktail napkins at that picnic are going to have our logo on them...it's all about service, just like the hotel industry."
He also tells of being able to accommodate the most over-the-top requests, like chartering private planes or helicopters at the last minute—which of course have clients' favorite drinks onboard (in a Malmberg Travel glass).
And what happens if a client requests the impossible?
"I haven't been stumped yet," he says with a grin.