Hanh Nguyen is a Sales Team Leader within Discova Educational Travel (DET). Like all members of the DET team, she is friendly, easy in conversation, and passionate about her work.
We met to speak of her time with Discova, the success stories and challenges along the way, and the underlying principles that drive the team.
She believes that she provided the missing piece in the puzzle for our award-winning educational travel team, not without a little well-deserved pride.
Interviewed by George Robinson
Hanh is Vietnamese. She comes from Central Vietnam, around 500km south of the capital, Hanoi.
Growing up and progressing through university, a career in travel never really entered her thinking. She studied International Business at university and, after graduating, moved through a couple of jobs within Logistics departments of various Vietnamese international companies.
In her own words, the problem was that they were ‘super boring’.
At some point during her time at university, Hanh caught the bug – she had developed the insatiable taste for travel.
She waxes lyrical over her solo travel experience of driving her motorcycle the length of Vietnam – from up in the intimidating mountains of the north, past her native, charming Central provinces, and down to the tropical Mekong Delta in the south.
Such trips are often transformative rites of passage. For Hanh, the lasting memory meant she wouldn’t be content with a basic desk job.
Over time, Hanh came to realise that giving back and supporting local communities was another must-have component of her career. This combination of a desire to be involved in travel and an urge to empower local communities led to her working for DMCs across Southeast Asia.
Hanh is nothing if not versatile: “I’ve worked in Sales, Product teams, and contracting teams – I’ve had a little experience in a lot of aspects of the DMC business.”
Despite her many skills allowing her to adapt and contribute across many different teams, Hanh confesses to a slight weakness – impatience.
“The DMC that I was working for in Laos was helping communities, but only on a small scale, and not at a speed that I would like. I was impatient and wanted to make a bigger difference!”
While happy with most aspects of her life and work in Laos, it was with a frustrated mindset that she began researching for positions elsewhere. She researched Buffalo Tours, now Discova, and admired their bold and ambitious plans to support local communities across Asia.
When a job within the educational travel team came available, she wasted no time – she quit her job before even having an interview!
A brave move, I remark, but Hanh just shrugs her shoulders as if her single-minded ambition was enough explanation needed.
Needless to say, she got the job – possibly due to the months of research she had already done on the company!
Hanh joined at a time of transition for the company. Buffalo Tours merged with Olympus Tours to create the new brand, Discova – a world-leading DMC with ambitious expansion plans.
A core element of Discova’s founding mission statements is to take a local first approach- empowering and supporting local people to be actively involved, and actively benefit from, tourism activities on their doorstep.
This is what had attracted Hanh to Discova in the first place.
However, she immediately noticed room for improvement in the way the educational travel team operated. She admired their focus on helping and supporting communities but insisted that this could not be the only priority.
With Hanh’s sales-oriented approach, she saw a crucial aspect of the formula was missing:
“More sales meant more profits, which meant more money for infrastructure projects and other endeavours to support our people. DET needed to become a product-led enterprise first and foremost.”
This reflects a crucial element of the work of DET, as has been highlighted by our Managing Director, Suyin Lee:
It’s this business nouse that Hanh feels she brought to the table – a vital piece for the success of the DET puzzle.
She designed programmes that were explicitly aligned with the needs of prospective clients – schools and universities in our source markets.
The emphasis was on providing value to those clients, allowing them to visit a new culture, contribute to a community, and, critically, tick off their development goals within their educational curricula.
Hanh proudly states that sales had doubled by the end of her first year.
“The more business we have, the more profits we can distribute to the communities we work with.”
Like all aspects of the tourism industry, educational travel faced considerable challenges during the pandemic.
“It’s when we looked at the months ahead – the empty spaces on the calendar. There were no groups on the ground for months with no clear end date. We had a simple thought – what can we do?”
But, like the rest of the company, DET adopted the mentality of refusing to stand still. Instead of being immobilised, Hanh and the rest of the team used the time to explore new opportunities, hoping to create revenue for our communities.
“We put a lot of energy into creating virtual educational programmes for clients. These constitute online learning programmes combined with guide-led virtual cultural exchanges.”
“We had no experience creating something like this but made a viable product for partners involving our local people. These virtual programmes will stay long-term as part of our broader product offering to educational clients.”
“We also took the opportunity to divert more of our attention to the domestic market in Vietnam. Universities in Vietnam were still able to travel for educational activities, so we took the time to develop new relationships with these partners.”
“Both of these moves opened up new sources of revenue for us. As we look to progress out of the pandemic now, the products that we can offer, and the partners we can offer them too, both constitute an improvement to our services.”
I decide to return to the subject of travel. Has Hanh met her tendency to wander, explore, and experience new cultures and countries through working with Discova?
“I’m fortunate to have spent time in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and, of course, Vietnam. Getting to travel across Southeast Asia has been fantastic. However, now, I’d love the chance to visit our new operations in the Americas. I’d love to immerse myself into Central American culture to see how it compares to what I have experienced in Asia.”
I suggest that Hanh could do some sort of residency in Costa Rica. She can check on and cooperate with our educational conservation programmes there.
Hanh thinks about it for a moment before stating that she’d rather just go on holiday there!
These programmes are designed for high school students to increase their awareness of environmental issues. They stay within a national park in Costa Rica, cooperate with park rangers to maintain the land, and receive lessons on the different conservation efforts the parks are involved with.
At the same time, the visit also offers the element of cultural exchange as the students interact with local villagers with classes and fun activities.
They are the first such programmes the historically Asia-centric DET team have initiated in the Americas. Hopefully, they are the first flagship programmes with others to follow in the coming years.
“We seem to be gaining traction with new partners across different source markets. With our first Costa Rica programmes, those open up another exciting avenue. From a personal viewpoint, I feel we are on the up, and I’m happy to be contributing to a special team!”
“We are all great friends, we each have our strengths and weaknesses, and together we are supportive but honest, too. It’s a joy to be a part of the team.”
So, I ask, there’s no secret research going on about other companies?
“Not at all! I’m here to stay.”
You can read about other members of the DET team, Phuong Doan and Chi Ngo, and the projects they have been involved with through Discova below:
To find out more about the work of our Educational Travel team, or get involved in any way, don’t hesitate to contact them at [email protected].
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