Profile: Eric Grayson, A Childhood Obsession-Turned-Reality

For Eric Grayson, it’s all about what brings him back to his childhood. 

From a young age the native New Yorker had the opportunity to travel to far-off places like Morocco, Botswana, and Chile with his family. Grayson’s father owned a brokerage specializing in emerging markets and thus traveled often. It wasn’t just a work requirement, however; it was also a big hobby of his father’s.

On those trips Grayson realized the world is far more expansive than just New York – or even the United States. Traveling as a child was “infectious enough” that it inspired him to make it his career. 

“I’d spend significant amounts of my free time researching new hotels, destinations, and adventures,” he said of his youth.

In the time since then, Grayson has held several jobs in the travel industry, which have led him to his current position – as the owner of Discover 7, a travel agency headquartered in New York. 

At only 27 years old, he is running a luxury travel business that earned over $2 million in 2015 and is on pace to surpass that in 2016. Grayson’s goal is to create vacations that are individually tailored; provide the highest service; and will leave a lasting effect on his clients much like the vacations he went on as a child.

Recently he has worked with a client on a vacation to Mount Everest. Prior to the trip, Grayson had his client consult a doctor to make sure they were able to perform all the tasks required. Once that was checked off, he suggested they meet with a personal trainer – an excursion to Everest can be extremely physically challenging and Grayson wanted to ensure that his client would be able to experience it to the fullest.

While finding all of the proper equipment may have cost Grayson a fair amount of time (working with high-end suppliers to receive the best equipment possible), providing his client with a gourmet culinary experience throughout the trip took the most effort. 

“We [worked] overtime to nail down restaurants, private chefs, and even a few home-cooked meals,” he says.  

And all of this time spent was before the trip ever began; plenty could still go awry during the excursion, which requires Grayson and his team’s full attention.

“We need to be available to put out fires and resolve issues,” Grayson said. “Because timing is so important, a seemingly small issue can throw everything off. It's really important to be attentive to all of that.”

Yet this is exactly what Grayson lives for – this is what he’s been striving for since his first taste of travel in his youth.

“Most kids worship athletes and movie stars but if you’re obsessed with luxury travel,” he says, “you worship Isadore Sharpe, the CEO of the Four Seasons.”

Being the self-described “travel geek” he was, Grayson received Four Seasons stock for his Bar Mitzvah gift (per his request). As a stockholder, he was able to attend the annual meeting the following spring and even had the chance to meet his idol Sharpe.

A few years later – now 16 years old – Grayson started taking flying lessons. On flying, Grayson says it’s “something that gives [him] an immense amount of joy – it provides a true sense of peace.” Taking to the skies on his own was the obvious next step for someone obsessed with travel. 

As we know, pilot wouldn’t become his title, however. 

In the following years, Grayson would hold positions in client services at the Four Seasons and Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. In his free time, he would help his family and friends plan their vacations – something he became adept at from his childhood leisure activities. Grayson even founded a social networking company designed to match travelers across the globe based on their compatibilities.

Years after attending that stockholder meeting, Grayson was becoming more and more immersed in the travel industry – only he hadn’t yet found his calling. He was, however, narrowing down his dream job.

Fast forward just a few more years and Grayson is finally the owner of Discover 7, which officially opened in 2013. Withstanding the advent of countless DIY booking sites accommodating tech-savvy users, travel agencies remain a thriving industry. Despite the competitive field, Grayson plunged in and hasn’t looked back.

While all of the technological advancements haven’t sunk the travel industry, they have changed how the industry functions. No longer are agencies used strictly to purchase airline flights and book hotel rooms; now they create itineraries for their guests, providing them with a taste of the local life if they wish.

Even Millennials, who would seemingly benefit most from online booking, are using travel agencies. In fact, they’re spearheading the travel agency revolution.

Enter Discover 7: an agency that books unique, luxury experiences for high-end clients by adapting to the times. For instance, the company launched an app that consolidates their clients’ itinerary and provides them with real-time flight status updates. They’ve combined the human side of booking with the tech side of staying connected throughout the journey.

“The Millennials we work with tend to be highly resourced,” Grayson says. “I think what surprises us the most is how much those clients rely on us, sometimes even more than older clients who have been using travel advisors all their lives … Millennials tend to be less interested in devoting time to research and planning, so they rely on us for the next step. We’re their app when it comes to travel.”

Millennials currently represent 35 percent of Discover 7’s clients but that number has continued to grow each year.

As for their travel app: Discover 7 was as one of the first customers of a company called Axus Travel App. They requested so many features that Axus Travel App eventually updated the entire app to make those features standard. The ability to stay connected with Discover 7 makes vacationing – and specifically during travel and connections – significantly easier and more relaxing for clients.

Another way Grayson and his team are trailblazing in the travel industry is their 24/7 style of operation.

“We do not have business hours,” he says. “We don’t restrict how often or through what means clients can contact us. All of my clients have my personal cell number and – believe me – they call it whenever they want.”

While many agencies are closing their brick-and-mortar offices and moving into their homes, Discover 7 still has its own office location. Grayson noted, however, that many of his clients lead very busy lives which don’t always allow for them to stop in during the usual 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business hours. This results in the majority of Discover 7’s clients booking their trips with Grayson or his other advisors either on the phone or through email.

Grayson, nevertheless, makes an effort to grab breakfast or lunch with his clients once a month (when they’re available) to keep up to date with any travel desires they may have.

Discover 7’s app and Grayson’s always-available cellphone certainly put clients at ease when they’re abroad. Prior to booking, on the other hand, if clients would like to know more about a destination, Grayson can put them in contact with one of his “Local Footsteps”: a group of guides in over 30 countries who keep Grayson and his clients in the know when it comes to an area he or his agents may be less familiar with. 

Moving forward, Grayson plans to take Discover 7 further into the realm of elite luxury travel. His company already has a partnership with Morton’s, a private member’s club in London, which provides his clients with special access, and even offers a baggage transport program, which collects the clients luggage at the airport and delivers it to their house or hotel. Soon they will have a paid tier which will offer additional amenities such as complimentary personal training sessions, surf lessons, and cooking classes.   

“I noticed there was a gap in the industry,” Grayson says. “A lot of people in this industry have been doing it for a long time and were used to doing it in an era when travel agents were more of a necessary item rather than a luxury item.”

Because Discover 7’s niche is the quality of service they offer and not strictly the service they offer, he hasn’t found it difficult selling to either Millennials or Baby Boomers, who might have trouble trusting someone much younger than them to plan their vacation.

The result of their service is the way Discover 7 stays in business.

Although the medium of planning vacations may vary (walk-ins, over the phone, or via email), Grayson says almost all of his clients discover him by word-of-mouth. When a company offers a “What can we find you that no one else knows about?” motto, people tend to talk about it.

As of now, all of Discover 7’s agents are “generalists,” as Grayson put it – they’re all comfortable selling any destination to a client (as long as they know it’s worth the visit). Although, he believes with the growth of Discover 7 his clients – both current and future – will move towards specialization. 

This is only the beginning of a childhood dream recognized for Grayson. Unfortunately, however, the hectic lifestyle of a travel agent doesn’t allow for Grayson to enjoy some of the leisure activities he enjoys: notably, he doesn’t get to fly himself very often anymore. Although he’s not in the cockpit, when he’s on commercial flights Grayson said he still gets the euphoric feeling he experienced at a 16-year-old taking to the skies for the first time.

Perhaps Eric Grayson, travel agency owner was a better result than Eric Grayson, pilot anyway.  

In this instance he gets to help others travel and recognize their own dreams. 

“Vacations are what everyone works for – they’re the highlight of most peoples’ year,” Grayson says. “Making sure that their experience exceeds their already high expectations makes this line of work both very challenging and very rewarding.”