Customers rely on agents to inspire and excite them, says Sharon Fleming, owner of Thompson Travel, Portadown, Northern Ireland

It is often said that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

I’ve just returned from one of my most amazing trips – to Vietnam. It must now be rated as one of my favourite destinations.

In 13 days, my small group from Northern Ireland covered most of the highlights. It wasn’t just the hotels and the transport, but the fabulous experiences on our journey from Saigon to Hanoi. From a rowing boat on the Mekong Delta and cooking classes on a local farm to our junk boat in Halong Bay – the brochure could not convey just how fab it is.

Expert insights

Crucially, I got to see the country through the eyes of the experts who organised my tour. I could never have found the first-ever ‘egg coffee’ cafe in Hanoi, nestled among compact buildings in crowded streets, on my own.

A narrow alley on Coffee Lane led to the original 1946 shop and every sip was worth waiting for – believe me, it is much nicer than it sounds.

Local restaurant Koto was a gastronomical phenomenon. Without a tour guide, how would I ever have known that the owner, a Vietnamese Aussie, had the idea to end the cycle of poverty by empowering and helping Vietnamese youth to forge a better future for themselves, their families and their communities?

Koto has now trained more than 700 students in Hanoi and Saigon, with 200 of them currently enrolled and working in the catering industry.

Every single experience on the trip was carefully planned. The photos I posted on Facebook give a small taste of the fantastic time had by all.

This week’s Advantage Conference is all about the importance of telling stories and how conveying personal experiences can help agents drive sales, so it seems timely that I’ve recently come back from one of my most memorable trips.

Memories, not things

It seems that a lot of our customers want the same as I do from a holiday – fantastic experiences, local culture and a break from the norm. They want to collect moments and memories, instead of things. Am I getting old? I don’t think so. Millennials, and their parents, have a similar way of thinking. They are opting for once-in-a-lifetime experiences – but every year.

If your agency is anything like mine, clients don’t appear with a brochure, demanding a specific tour – they may have researched online, but mainly rely on us to direct them to the right one.

So how do we choose from the huge range of operators on our shelves? In my business, I choose those which train us, support us, don’t undercut our prices and allow us to experience their destinations, therefore giving us the selling power to engage new customers and grow our own business.

Wendy Wu Tours, I salute you. You truly are experts in your field.