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25 and Counting: The Group Travel Leader Inc Reaches a Milestone

Mac Lacy always wanted to start his own business.

“I was tired of living with other people’s mistakes; I wanted to make my own mistakes,” said Lacy, president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader. “We all make mistakes, but I enjoy making my own.”

Lacy founded The Group Travel Leader, Inc. in late 1990 in Lexington, Kentucky, and published the first issue of its flagship magazine, The Group Travel Leader, in March 1991. Twenty-five years, 290 editions and two additional publications later, Lacy and his staff are celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary.

The idea to publish a trade magazine for the group travel industry had been rolling around Lacy’s head, especially because he had the background with the Kentucky Department of Travel Development and the National Tour Association. He and Charlie Presley worked together on the NTA marketing committee, and when Mac mentioned the idea for a magazine, Presley planted the idea of targeting group travel leaders, “a niche that would give us a unique vantage point,” Lacy said.

Presley had started The Group Travel Family a year or so earlier, operating travel shows across the country for group travel leaders, and he recognized that the two companies would be perfect partners.

“I had the base for the group travel leaders, [Lacy] had the knowledge for the magazine. So it was a natural fit,” said Presley, chairman and founder of The Group Travel Family.

Lacy brought in Herb Sparrow to head the editorial side of the magazine. Sparrow, a former reporter for the Associated Press and United Press International, was running his own communications business, but when Lacy approached him, “we jumped right in,” Sparrow said.

Lacy and Sparrow stayed up all night “giving birth” to the first issue — a tabloid-size newsprint edition — “and we haven’t missed a deadline since,” Sparrow said.

Lacy brought his drive for quality and his desire to make (very few of) his own mistakes to the magazine. As executive editor, Sparrow brought his journalism standards to the content. Everything about The Group Travel Leader, from its editorial copy to its photography and layout, “is designed to be the top of the market,” Lacy said.

“Our niche is to be at the top of the food chain,” Lacy said. “There are a number of companies that write about group travel, but from the start, our premise has been to be the best.”

Before the first edition came out, Lacy and Sparrow outlined the magazine’s philosophy and vision. Of course they wanted it to be accurate and well written, but they also agreed the magazine should not be advertiser influenced, meaning it shouldn’t be “if you buy an ad, you get a mention,” Sparrow said. Lacy was adamant about that from the start and has held firm to it for 25 years.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.