Despite his early, natural talent as a trip organizer, Jay Smith, president of Sports Travel and Tours, had no idea that the travel industry would be his life’s true calling. You could say it all began unexpectedly back in 1970, when Jay was just a 16-year-old music fan with a concert to attend.
The British rock group Jethro Tull was playing at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, a half hour from Jay’s home in Long Beach, New York. Many students, including Jay, bought tickets and then either didn’t want to drive, or, too young to hold a license, could not drive.
Jay got the idea to charter a bus for the event, so he walked around the high school cafeteria, asking for $5 to cover trip costs and an extra $1 to tip the driver. Remarkably, Jay generated enough interest from his peers to fill the bus and create not only a memorable evening at the concert, but his first successful voyage into the travel business.
Still, at such a young age, Jay hadn’t figured out his career goals. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, intending to become a probation officer working with juvenile offenders, but while he was in college, Jay fell more deeply into the travel industry again, finding part-time work through a youth summer camp program called American Trails West.
Jay spent two summers leading cross-country camping trips through the Midwest, Canada and Alaska. After graduating from college in 1976 and working at a horse farm in Maine for a short time, Jay got involved with the youth program full time.
“Over the next 20 years, I worked with American Trails West,” Jay says. “We really took a program that was in its infancy and led it to become the number one program in the industry. I also got to work with kids from all around the country.”
In 1987, Jay moved to Hatfield, Massachusetts, with his wife, Carol, setting down roots and raising their two children. In a time before cell phones and computers, he managed to work remotely, traveling back and forth to company headquarters. Then, in 1990, Jay started organizing sports trips almost by accident.
“An old acquaintance worked for a marketing company that was trying to promote a series of sports-themed books,” Jay says. “He had the idea of organizing a sports club; if you bought the books you would become part of the club and would have access to sports-themed vacations too.”
Jay’s friend bounced the idea off of him. The two pondered if organizing travel based around sporting games was possible, or if there would be any interest from clients.
“I remember my words like they were yesterday,” Jay says. “I said, ‘Anything in this world is possible as long as you have time, energy, knowledge and some money.’ So I got to work putting together a program, drawing up some itineraries and booking events.”
Unexpectedly, however, the book publishers, Simon and Schuster, backed out on the marketing deal. It seemed that all of Jay’s hard work had been in vain, but then Jay decided to run the trips himself.
Three trips attracted 99 travelers in what was the first year of business in a venture Jay ran with the friend trying to market the books. Impressed with their success, Jay left American Trails West in 1994 to focus his energy on the dually owned travel business. Later, in 1996, Jay set out on his own and started Sports Travel and Tours.
“That was 19 years ago now,” Jay says. “It’s been an interesting ride, that’s for sure, and I love what I do. We deliver fun for others, and the comments we get back from folks are great.”
Since founding Sports Travel and Tours, Jay and his staff have worked with tens of thousands of travelers, providing them with hassle-free trip options across the United States and Canada. Jay has also spent the past three years as a board member for the National Tour Association and was recently named secretary of the NTA’s executive board for 2015.
Jay says that the best part of his job is helping sports fans fulfill their dreams and cross sports destinations off their bucket lists. Positive client responses are the best kind of payment to him.
“One guy recently posted on the Sports Travel and Tours Facebook page, ‘Thank you for the best trip I have ever been on in my entire life. You fulfilled my dream,’” Jay continues. “It’s that kind of response that fuels me to continue this work. There’s no amount of money in the world that could make the work any better.”