Travel Weekly last week reported on the agent who won £10,000 worth of consultancy support in a Dragons' Den-style competition. Here, Hollie-Rae Merrick finds out why she won
Winner - Sharon Fleming, owner, Thompson Travel International
Before she became a travel agent, working for her father, Sharon Fleming had spent eight years working in the civil service and health sector.
Her father, Maurice Thompson, had always wanted to take people to Israel and it was that passion that led to his creation of Thompson Travel International in 1992.
Three years later, Fleming joined the business, starting as a trainee and working her way up. After her father died six years ago – while on a tour in Israel – she stepped up to take over the reins.
She told the judges that the agency, which specialises in pilgrimage tours to Israel and other religious destinations, had great potential to expand.
She asked for help in developing her website and creating other marketing tools.
Commenting on her win, Fleming said: “I think the judges recognised I have something special in the pilgrimages and church group bookings we offer.
“There is great potential to grow that to a wider UK audience.”
Finalist - Sharon May, owner, Worldwide Travel Solutions
Sharon May started her company 16 years ago and initially targeted the Caribbean community with flight-only deals.
“The business continued to grow and that was only doing flight-only to the Caribbean,” she told the judges. “We were selling to anyone from families to a high commissioner and I even do business with one of the island’s prime ministers.
“Then I started doing a lot of cricket groups and that has become really popular.”
May, who joined Advantage earlier this year, sought the judges’ help to set up a Caribbean meet and greet-style event and said she was also looking at the prospect of taking on homeworkers and organising wedding fairs in her local area.
She said she had been doing the same marketing for 15 years and was keen to get their help to develop her methods.
May agreed with the judges when they questioned whether she was too hands-on with the business, but added: “I just want to succeed.”
Finalist - Mark White, owner, Ocky White Travel
Mark White told the judges that Ocky White Travel had been through a time of great change. After being based in Ocky White Department Store in Wales for almost 50 years, the store closed down and the travel department had to set up in a new location.
The department store was set up by one of his ancestors in 1910 and had remained in the family until earlier this year when it became the victim of the recession.
White, who had been involved in the agency side of the business for almost 30 years, was keen to keep it going on his own.
He said the agency was one of only three independents in the area and that it was a well-known name. However, he wanted the judges’ help to branch out further in Pembrokeshire and to build up his client base to include the residents of Cardigan and Carmarthen.
He said: “Recently there has been a huge swing back towards independent agencies and this is great. We are getting people coming back and they are making these big purchases for luxury holidays.”
What the judges said
Matt Purser, Travel Trade Consultancy, said: “The competition has been of a high standard and we are looking forward to working with Sharon and her team at Thompson Travel International to help them develop their business.”
Karen Ramirez, Lingua Communications, said: “All three finalists made a compelling case for winning, and I am excited at the prospect of working with Thompson Travel International to help develop an engaging communications strategy that will positively impact the growth of the business in the future.”
Jonathan Wall, Elman Wall, said: “The decisive factor for me is that Sharon Fleming appeared really willing to commit to build and develop her business with the help of the judges’ expertise. Her specialist groups product, as well as the retail agency, gave her a unique proposition that could be successfully leveraged.”
David Moon, Advantage Travel Centres, said: “I want to congratulate Sharon Fleming on winning and thank Sharon May and Mark White for putting themselves into our dragons’ den. Advantage will be working with both agents to help them realise the potential in their business.”
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