Ahead of International Women’s Day this Friday (8 March), Travel Weekly spoke to one of the industry’s most enviable professionals: Claire Hanney, head of travel experiences at Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold.
Hanney is the epitome of a wayfarer: notoriously hard to pin-down and infectiously passionate for travel.
Between conversations you could catch her anywhere on the continent – testing Jeeps near Jodhpur in India, or running webinars at home-base in London – in the space it takes to write this profile.
Travel is one of the rare fields that rewards this kind of obsession. It’s also one of the only professions that can be enjoyed both as practice and pastime.
Hanney began her career with a passion for the craft– foremost, she wanted to travel, and as opportunity rewarded dedication, she wanted to work for the company that got her foot in the door. It’s an ambition that lingers in her life to this day.
Hanney spent 10 years working her way through roles with The Travel Corporation until she reached her goal of becoming head of travel experiences for Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold.
It’s an illustriously attractive job description: be the trendsetter– plan, design and implement unique guest experiences. It’s cutting-edge, but Hanney takes a different path to planning.
“[I plan holidays] the old-fashioned way– I get out there and travel,” she told Travel Weekly.
“When I’m not travelling for work, I travel for fun, so of course while there’s a lot of research on travel trends as part of my job. Genuinely speaking, it is our job to set the travel trends, so usually by the time I’m reading about a trend, it’s something that I’ve been working on for years.”
Separating the traveller from the travel-initiated is no mean feat. It takes a rare kind of honesty to admit that there isn’t anything new to offer in terms of location. It takes an even greater sense of creativity to say that your experience of the place is what makes it unique. So, how do you find something unique in what has already been discovered?
“I don’t believe that any destination is new. Any adventurous traveller has had the ability to go anywhere they set their mind on for years,” Hanney said. “It’s great to see some of the old favourites like Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Israel back on the tourist agenda.”
Being on the forefront of travel experiences means finding something special in what has already been found. Hanney said that’s the tricky part.
“These destinations are spectacular for travellers, and it is so great to see that guests are returning. Our team is really making sure that these destinations embrace travel experiences in new ways – reinvigorating the industry and providing brilliant ways to immerse yourself in the local culture.”
When asked whether she had found it hard to rise through the ranks as a woman in travel, Hanney said this has never been an issue for her, as The Travel Corporation rewards merit.
“In our company, work hard, be innovative, be tenacious, and get the job done – and they will find opportunities for you to grow your career, and help the business to grow,” she said.
“I now have the best boss in the industry, Ulla Hefel, as our CEO, so I’m lucky to have an inspirational female role model at the helm of the company I work for.”
As a traveller, Hanney is nothing but inspiring. As a professional, she is nothing but enviable – living the perfect work/life balance by blurring the line between the two.
For young, aspiring women looking to make it in the industry, Hanney gave this advice: “Have a goal and do the work it takes to get there.
“I recently met with a rising star in our company who I rejected for a front line role two times before she was finally ready for the job. Each time, I told her she wasn’t ready and what she needed to do to prepare herself.
“She went out there, got the experience she needed, and came back asking for the same job again. I admire her tenacity, her drive and her willingness to take on feedback. It’s great to see that 10 years later, she’s now the one hiring and inspiring our new team members.
Hanney also encouraged females to choose a company that demonstrates support for women to rise through the ranks.
“At Insight, our CEO is female, our MD in Australia is female. We don’t just talk about equality in the business – we find the best person for the job and give them the freedom to do it well,” she said.
Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold are at the forefront of gender equality in the travel industry. Globally, 70 per cent of its team is composed of women, with over 60 per cent in leadership positions. More than 50 per cent of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold’s travellers are also women.
Travel Weekly is continuing to champion and celebrate female representation in the industry with the Women in Travel Awards 2019. Click here for more info.