Gai Spann is Co-Founder Association of Black Travel Professionals and this week’s featured woman
Tell us about your business…
Okay, so our new business is The Association of Black Travel Professionals, and we launched the organization this past November in 2020. The purpose of the organization is to address the disparity that we noticed as a trend in terms of leadership roles for black travel professionals, so with our platform; we focus on business development training to focus on making sure that our members and their businesses are tight and properly developed, creating a certified talent pool for our travel suppliers and for them to be able to find good talented travel professionals to work with.
Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
For me, I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, but I think entrepreneurship suits me very well. One thing that I love about being an entrepreneur is that we get to create something where there was nothing. It tests you constantly, and you get to see what you are made of. I love being able not to be held back in terms of creativity. For our organization, if we think about it, if we come up with an idea, we can discuss it and put our resources to it to get it done. There is no back and forth, or we “have to get a sign-off from corporate.” You get a chance to spring your ideas to life, and that’s something that I love.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
It’s hard to point to a specific person because there are too many people to list but to name a few, I’d say my mother for instilling the confidence to move forward, my partners for believing in me and helping me strive to achieve more and my clients for being the reason I continue.
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
My greatest professional accomplishment to date has been able to give others that once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. It can really change a person’s life, bringing them to a place they would never have thought to go, and having a client be able to have that kind of transformative experience makes me love my job to the point where I genuinely don’t feel like I wasn’t working, but enjoying my passion.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
It isn’t direct advice, but something my mother had said that genuinely resonated with me. One day, I was at her house after she had retired, and I recall her saying, “You know, if I had known it was going to turn out so good, I wouldn’t have worried all this time.” As an entrepreneur, the journey is a rollercoaster. An up and down ride where there are many times you’d want to throw in the towel or when you don’t know where that next break is going to come from. During those times, I always reflect on that thing my mom said and conclude that it’s still a challenge, but I’m not going to worry about it; I know it will work out in the end. I try to focus on the long game and think that the day-to-day and the week-to-week are just the small battles. They’re not the war, and that makes it easier to keep my eye on the prize.
What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?
It’s so interesting because when I started my travel agency, there wasn’t social media yet, and it’s so prevalent today to the point where you can’t do anything without it. We find that authentic storytelling and connecting to your target market are really what moves the meter in our new business. We are finding that we are getting a strong response from people because they see it’s a similar experience, and I think just by connecting through our membership, through storytelling, is the best way to get the word across.
What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
There are a couple of lessons, the first being cash flow. Every entrepreneur will tell you cash flow, and you’ve to learn it and get with it. But also, I would say, you need to surround yourself with good people. No matter how independent you think you are, it would help if you still had a good team around you.
Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?
I think it’s essential to have your finances correct, so walk, don’t run to make sure you have either the right accountant or that you spend that time if you’re going to do it yourself, to understand how to get your business set up correctly. We know that many travel businesses did not get any assistance from loans, especially travel agents, because they didn’t qualify because they didn’t have their travel business as an LLC or didn’t have a business bank account. Regardless of whether or not your business is a part-time thing for you, or not, it’s still a business, and having your finances in order is crucial to success. If it is part-time, still run it like a business.
Do you have any new projects coming up …
I went back to school, and I’m currently getting a master’s in hospitality management. I graduated undergrad in 1990, so I didn’t think I’d go back to school, but taking this project on has been refreshing. Going back to school at this level, you understand issues so much easier, and the knowledge you gain steps you up a couple of levels. It is a big thing for me, and I’m very excited to add more letters behind my name.
As for the business, ours is so new that every little win is like a big deal. One of the responsibilities that I shoulder in the organization is partnerships, including supporting companies on board. Recently, we just signed a major sponsor, and it was just such a great victory because we have been going back and forth for a while and finally got to an agreement. Now that they are on board, I think that’s going to open the gateway for other major suppliers to partner with us as well!
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
I always try to say I don’t think I have hobbies because I think hobbies are things that you’re supposed to do regularly, and you’re supposed to be decent in your hobby. I want to think of myself more like an experienced person, someone who dives fully into her experiences. I’m new to Georgia and have recently discovered hiking here. With all the gorgeous parks, you can walk and walk and walk a country mile, and it’s just beautiful. Of course, I love to travel, and even though I work in the industry, very rarely do I get to travel for leisure, so once the pandemic is over, I’d love to get back to that. Finally, I love good wine, and I love great films, with international films being my favorites. Those are some of my favorite things to do when I’m trying to relax.
What is the Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?
We are organizing young travel leadership forums, and this year will be the first year for the forum. We are starting from scratch, so if we can get the forum produced and for people to come, I envision it being a think tank for black travel professionals, a place for not only business development and leadership skills but a place to come together and think about some of the creative ideas that we can bring to the travel space. If that can come along, I’ll be happy for that and see the organization grow and take its place in the industry and for its members to continue to get recognition and make a change in the industry.
You want to write a book on…
I would love to write a book about taking your own path and making your own way. I thought a lot about how I got where I am, and it was not a direct line but a total zig-zag. When I got out of college, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and I just knew I wanted to be in business. From always being open and always being curious, I managed to find my way into travel. Travel isn’t one of the things people go to college to study, it’s something you see, so I love to write a book that encourages people to make their own way, break away from that straight line, and find fulfillment making their own path.
Is there anything else you like to share with our readers?
I think that we’re in a time where women are showing up. It’s a time when people listen to different voices, so it’s a time of great opportunity. I think women are very creative, they’re very passionate about what they believe in, yet sometimes they don’t have the inner confidence to step up and “I can do it.” I would want to encourage women to look inside themselves, find that confidence, go ahead, make a change, stand up right now, and speak out because right now, the world is looking, and the world is looking for women.
What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you (feel free to include the links to)
Instagram is a great way, and mine is just my name @GaiSpann