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Hidden Gems: Meet Robert Merlin of SmartFlyer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robert Merlin.

Hi Robert, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to today?
My wife and I always prioritized travel and family time and always worked with a wonderful travel advisor, Pam Walker. One day, I tried to distract myself at work and googled how to become a travel advisor. I quickly affiliated with a company in Houston but soon realized that the company was not the right fit. At the same time I was getting my feet wet in the industry, I began following several industry leaders on Twitter. One of them, Michael Holtz of SmartFlyer, ended up at the same meeting as me at Washington University. I recognized him on Twitter and introduced myself. That was on a Saturday. By Monday, I was SmartFlyer’s first IC outside the New York area (and possibly their first-ever IC).

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I have had tremendous help and support from SmartFlyer and the New York-based team to help me figure out the industry. The biggest struggle for me is that despite my love of, and dedication to, the travel industry, I still work as a full-time attorney for my law firm. The biggest struggles have been balancing my time and workloads for two very different careers while still providing clients the service they expect and deserve. The other most extensive work has been convincing clients who know I practice law to call me for any travel needs because they often feel as if they are bothering me when they are not.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about SmartFlyer St. Louis?
Because I entered this industry without a plan, I have always been known as SmartFlyer St. Louis. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. In my first year of sales, I did $30,000.00, and this year I will exceed, I believe, $10,000,000.00, and my team will come close to $30,000,000.00. We do not advertise, and clients are all referral-based. What sets me apart is my availability and willingness to help at all hours. Colleagues make fun of me because I sleep in earbuds and work hard to respond to every email as soon as it comes in. I have an excellent assistant, Maria, who works with me to make sure trips are planned well and problems are addressed as quickly as possible. I have two children – 15 and 12 – and have traveled to over 40 countries with them and would love to think that I understand family travel better than many, although I approach to travel as I would a legal case – doing the appropriate work and research to understand destinations and the latest hotel openings. Brining in colleagues to assist when appropriate and work hard to give my clients the most bang for their buck – to maximize their budget so their vacation is exactly what they hoped it would be. Most important, because of SmartFlyer, we have excellent relationships we can leverage to improve our client’s experiences, and clients have seen this first-hand. The biggest obstacle has been convincing people that we do more than fancy and five-star that our services and efforts are applied to each client, regardless of budget.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I love St. Louis and have chosen to live here. It is a phenomenal place to raise a family. It is easily the most charitable city I have ever been to, and the organizations scattered throughout the metro area are a testament to the charitable nature of our citizens and the city’s commitment to the arts. St. Louis makes the arts accessible to all. The Zoo, Art Museum, MUNY, and History Museum (to name a few) are all free – and phenomenal. My wife is a Trustee of the St. Louis Art Museum and on the Board of COCA, and I am on the development board of the new St. Louis Aquarium Foundation. It is just tremendously easy to get involved in the community. Forest Park dwarfs Central Park and is just a fun place to spend an afternoon. There is nothing like Cardinal baseball, and the St. Louis Soccer Club will significantly impact our downtown. The MUNY and the Fox and the Symphony help make us an understated world-class city. My wife and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunities we have in St. Louis to expose ourselves to the various cultures and arts that our city offers.

What I dislike is the impression that our city is not safe. I am not in politics but would love to see the City and County merge so that our crime and other statistics reflect what it is like in St. Louis.


  • The only fee I charge is $100.00 per person for airline tickets

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