Meet the Board: Stephanie Lee

Meet the Board: Stephanie Lee

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Stephanie Lee is the founder of Host Agency Reviews (HAR), a website that connects over 70k visitors a month to travel industry resources. HAR helps people looking to join the travel industry the roadmap to successfully start and grow their travel agencies.

Lee began the site 12 years ago and has consistently grown its offerings over that time, and recently, she joined the Family Travel Association board to help connect more travel agencies to each other, as well as proper resources.

We talked with Lee about how she got started, what HAR has to offer, and what she’s seeing in the pipeline for the travel industry.

How did you get started in the family travel industry?

When I was in high school, my mom opened a home-based travel agency, and so I have been steeped in travel for quite a long time. After college, I kind of worked in the family businesses in various capacities through the years, but when I was in my mid 20s, I was working at a women’s shelter and got a little burnt out. I was like, “I think I need a break.” And so, I went to work at my parents’ agency because they had finally moved into a storefront, and I tried selling travel, and that really wasn’t my thing.

But what was interesting to me was this small portion of their business called a host agency—they maybe hosted 10 regional advisors. And so, I focused on the host agency division of their business and built that up, and after about five or six years, I started my own website called Host Agency Reviews, seeing a need for that within the industry.

What about the host agencies stood out to you?

I love education. I had been doing environmental education for a long time and really enjoy teaching people things. But what I found I liked about host agencies was, at that time, it was at the very beginning of when they started taking root. It was after kind of the commission cuts, and travel agencies were closing left and right, and really struggling to try to find their place in this new world with OTAs.

So, there were very, very few young people in the travel industry at the time. I would go to events, and when I saw the host agency model, I was like, “This is what people of my generation dream of, being able to work from anywhere, use the internet to book things online. I don’t know why more people aren’t doing this and focusing on this.”

What was it like starting Host Agency Reviews in that moment?

I had to learn a ton about not only how the travel industry worked, but also how running a business worked. Both my parents and grandparents were entrepreneurs, but it’s not something I ever talked to them about, like, “How do you start your company?” I did a lot of research on those things and I became really passionate about teaching people how the travel industry works, because it was very difficult for me to find information online. And you had to talk with people within the industry really in-depth to find that info. And then also, what’s involved with starting a business? How do you need to do it? I was very enthralled with the freedom that it can bring to anyone to open your business. So I was very passionate about teaching people about how to harness that.


Tell us more about what Host Agency Reviews does now.

The site’s been around for 12 years now, and it’s a little hard to explain because we have so many arms to the business. We do so much, but the big thing is, it’s kind of an online tech platform. It’s like Yelp for travel advisors looking for resources, is how I like to explain it. And specifically, one of the things we focus on is if they’re looking for a host agency or a consortia or a franchise to align with. And so, they can find that in the directory portion of the site. Then we also have a blog with a long form evergreen content. We don’t want to do news, but we do education. Then we have two different podcasts we do, and really in-depth research reports on travel advisors, and we have a course that helps people start their travel agencies.

Why is family travel important?

Family Travel is one of the niches that pulls up again and again on our surveys every year in the reports that we push out, so it’s a huge piece of the market. I think Ken Shapiro introduced me to the FTA, in part because Host Agency Reviews, we get on average about 70,000 visits a month, and so we reach a lot of travel advisors. So, being able to help promote the FTA, because I know they’re looking to grow their agency membership, but also connecting all of these travel advisors that sell family travel with resources, that’s what we do!


Looking ahead to 2024, how are you feeling about travel?

I am feeling incredibly bullish about it. We do our report on travel advisors, and I talk with a lot of host agencies, so I know that sales are 2024 are back and we’re above what we were before the pandemic.

So I knew that, but I also just read last week a Phocuswright report on the travel agency landscape, and one thing that was incredibly exciting in there is not only are 2024 projected sales for leisure above and beyond what they were in the pandemic, but even more exciting was their report looking at the travel agency distribution channel, which includes traditional travel agencies as well as OTAs. What was cool is, it showed the share the market share of the sales that come through that, and I think in everyone’s mind, it’s still that the OTAs dominate. In 2022, the market share was roughly even. It was like 22% for OTAs and 21% for travel agencies, the traditional ones, but when you look at what’s projected for 2026, actually, the OTAs drop to 21% and agencies jump up to 26% of the travel agency share.

That’s huge, and I feel like this should be in headlines everywhere. That’s what I’m really excited about. I think the pandemic has finally turned the tide, where people are recognizing the value of travel agencies, as well as, there’s just so much content out there and it’s so overwhelming having someone navigate it for you.

Any final thoughts for the FTA?

I’m really excited to be a part of it. I can’t wait to help grow the Travel Advisor membership, and it’s great to see it already moving up.


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