By Gracie Gagliano for the Bradenton Herald
SARASOTA — Malaka Hilton has a passport and a resume that should have the Travel Channel calling her agency for stories.
The president of Admiral Travel Gallery can get clients invited to a reception at the home of Egypt’s former first lady Jehan Sadat or dinner in Japan prepared by celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi or backstage with legendary classical singer Andrea Bocelli while traveling in Tuscany.
“We show them the country, the great hotels and the dining experience,” Hilton said. “Then we create that wow factor for them.”
The travel industry has been quite rewarding for Hilton. In the 15 years she’s been in the industry, Hilton has started her own travel agency that’s gained accolades from Conde Nast, and Travel + Leisure magazines, she’s trekked across the world and met her husband on an African safari.
“Malaka gets it,” said Tommy Klauber, who has Admiral Travel Gallery plan trips to Chile, Argentina and South Africa for the Gulf Coast Wine Connoisseur Club. “She knows what we’re trying to accomplish in creating a unique experience.”
That’s probably because Hilton has plenty of training under her belt.
She’s been traveling since she was 4, when she took her first international trip to Egypt with her parents.
At 8 years old, Hilton went on a family trip to Asia that inspired her to pursue a career in travel and hospitality.
“The bug really hit me then, that I enjoyed being outside the country,” Hilton said.
Hilton, who grew up in Sarasota, received her business administration degree in hospitality at Florida State University.
“I knew I didn’t want to work for a hotel or restaurant,” Hilton said. “For me, I wanted to continue to travel the world. So I thought with my travel background, travel is hospitality you could eventually start your own travel company.”
Hilton worked at a small travel agency for three years before starting Admiral Travel in 1997. That same year she met her husband, Ryan. He was her tour guide on a safari in Africa. Ryan, a South African native, is recognized as the top safari specialist in the world by Conde Nast and co-owns Admiral Travel with Hilton.
“Africa is in his blood,” she said.
Africa is also the Hiltons’ favorite trip to plan for clients.
“We love planning Africa,” she said. “The guest never knows what they’re going to see. It’s always exciting to see their pictures and hear their experiences.”
Michelle Anderson, director of private client group for Admiral Travel, says the most rewarding aspect of the travel industry is planning clients’ global excursions.
“When you’re creating people’s dreams it’s the most amazing thing,” Anderson said. “It’s the most fabulous job I’ve ever had. I’ve been doing this for 26 years and it never gets old.”