Stacey Ray is the CEO and founder of Groupit Travel and Groupit Travel Host Agency, the only host agency in the US to specialize in group travel. She is a veteran traveler having been to almost 70 countries and has sailed more than 50 times ranging from 5 days to 6 weeks onboard. She is a certified Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialist and also certified by the The Gay Wedding Institute for same-sex destination weddings. Stacey is proud to be a Certified Luxury Travel Specialist and to lead our Certified Accessible Travel Advocate agency. Stacey has been an invited as a fully-hosted buyer to the Global Travel Marketplace, ILTM (International Luxury Travel Marketplace), ITE (Incentive Travel Exchange), CruiseWorld and the Pacific Asia Travel Association Conference.
She will be co-hosting a Group Travel Mastermind-FAM opportunity in Malaysia and Singapore and in October leading a FAM trip to Romania and Bulgaria where she will work with agents to help them learn group travel logistics. Look for here at CruiseWorld 2018 in November where she will be speaking!
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Stacey. How are you today?
Stacey Ray (SR): Very excited and honored to be here.
TRO: How long have you been in the travel industry, and how did you first decide it was for you?
SR: I have officially been in the travel business since 2014. However, for approximately 30 years, I was a corporate and non-profit organization event planning consultant. Because I was an avid traveler all of my life, I always knew that this was what I wanted to do. However, it was not until 2014 that I decided to take the plunge, at the urging of my husband, and start my business.
TRO: You own, and run, both a travel agency and a host agency. Do you think this helps you stay grounded in all aspects of the industry? How so?
SR: Most definitely. Owning a travel agency allows me to keep a pulse on client and destination trends as well as styles of travel, especially what’s hot and what’s not. As the owner of a host agency, I have the pleasure of working with agents from around the country who have so many unique niche specialties and business goals. Additionally, because of the geographical differences among their client bases, I learn a lot from them as well. For instance, what is trending with clients in NYC is not necessarily trending with clients in Oklahoma. The best part of entrenching myself in both sides of the business is that I am able to leverage our sales volumes with many different types of suppliers around the world – not just the standard fare that one normally finds within most host agencies.
TRO: There is a video on the home page of the Groupit Travel Host Agency site that details what agents should be looking for in a host agency. Were these lessons learned the hard way, through experience, or through intense study of the travel industry?
SR: Thanks for asking about this. I made the video because I myself had been part of a very large organization that, due to size, could not be flexible in their offerings to agents; which made me feel that my business growth would always be at the mercy of their policies. I then switched to a newer, smaller host agency and found myself the victim of some very questionable business practices and unable to collect my commissions without retaining an attorney. When I started my host agency, I knew what business model I wanted, and I knew there was a need in the industry. So, I made the video because I wanted agents who were seeking a host agency to know that whether we were the right host for them or not, they should have all of the information one needs to vet potential agencies so that they would be able to make an informed decision that was best for them.
TRO: If you could break down your philosophy when doing business with clients or other agents, what would it be?
SR: Honesty, transparency, and the willingness to be flexible. I learned long ago that your reputation is all you have in this business and I am simply not willing to collaborate with anyone – clients, agents, suppliers, that do not have this same moral compass. Additionally, travel is not a one-size-fits-all industry. One of the reasons that I believe that I’ve been successful is that every client and every agent is unique, and we address their needs as such. For instance, we offer the ability for agents to do net groups, which can significantly increase the income potential of an agent. Now, with that said, we have very specific guidelines that they must follow before we will approve it and it takes hard work. We are insured as a Tour Operator and we act as such for our agents who do these groups.
TRO: What you would you say are the primary benefits for an agent who decides to become part of a host agency?
SR: If an agent can find a host agency that is the best fit for them, then they should be able to receive the mentoring and support they need to be successful. While a host agency’s responsibility is not to teach someone “how” to be a travel agent, it is their responsibility to help them become a “better” agent. Another benefit of being with a host agency is that, hopefully, the host is doing a great job on the backend. However – I will warn agents that they should never, ever, rely on someone else’s information when it comes to finances. Every agent should know exactly what they are owed and from whom. The other benefit I would like to speak about is that, when you choose a host agency, be sure that they are in line with your own goals. For instance, if you want to sell only cruises, it makes no sense to go with a host agency that rarely sells them. Our host agency is unique in that we are the only host agency in the United States that specializes in group travel – and we do so across many niche micro-specialties such as luxury, romance, MICE, and so much more.
TRO: Where are your favorite destinations for travel?
SR: Without question, and as everyone who knows me can attest to – my favorite destination is Iceland. I also love just about everywhere in Europe, especially the Mediterranean. And, of course I love Mexico and the Caribbean with a special shout-out to my favorite island of Saint Lucia.
TRO: If you had any advice for agents just starting out, what would it be?
SR: Wow. I have a lot but in the interest of time: 1) you must remember that this is a business venture – you are not an employee. This means you must have the money and resources to invest in your business just like you would any other. 2) Collaborate with more experienced agents, especially when you get a lead for something you don’t know anything about. You only have one chance to impress, so it’s better to split a commission than ruin someone’s travel plans. 3) You are not selling a product – you are selling experiences. 4) NO ONE is your competition – you are unique, and you need to remember that. 5) Value over pricing! You are allowed to say no to price chasers because they will never be loyal to you because they are always chasing the cheapest price. LAST, remember my motto – “If it ain’t perfect the first time, there will be no second time”.
TRO: Does Groupit have any upcoming projects or news that our readers should be on the lookout for?
SR: Yes, we do! First, I am so proud and excited to announce that Lorraine Simpson, the leading expert on destination weddings and romance travel in North America, has joined Groupit Travel Host Agency as our Executive Vice President. This makes us the first and only collaboration between the US and Canada and allows us to combine our expertise and resources for agents from both countries. Second, I have joined Lorraine in her brainchild, Masterminds of Travel, where we will be offering incredible mastermind/FAM opportunities for qualified and vetted agents who are ready to take their business to a new level in the areas of group travel, luxury travel and destination weddings. Our very first Mastermind will be held in Malaysia and Singapore in about two weeks! We have a lot of exciting things planned for our Mastermind graduates with more info to come soon.
Additionally, we will be announcing shortly that we will begin working with agents throughout North America who are approached for groups but don’t know how to plan and execute them – but don’t want to lose their clients. We will be working in a collaborative fashion, whereby we will be doing all of the work, but the agent maintains the clients. For more information on this, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRO: Thank you for time, Stacey.
SR: My absolute pleasure!