Winning Women

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Interviews by Ed Finn -

Women are truly at the heart of Ireland’s travel industry and their contribution was celebrated recently at the 2019 Travel Media Awards in Dublin. Travel Times met three of the winners to discover the secrets of their success. The Travel Media Awards are the only awards that call on travel journalists to vote for their favourite companies in the travel trade. Multi award winning Sharon Jordan, Mary Mc Kenna and Tanya Airey reveal all in “The Interview”. These dynamic women present a true reflection of the breadth of female talent across the travel industry.


Sharon Jordan – The Travel Corporation

Sharon Jordan - Country Manager
Sharon Jordan - Country Manager

Q: Who are you?

I am the Country Manager at The Travel Corporation Ireland since 2010. The Travel Corporation is made up of 30 unique brands such as Insight Vacations, Trafalgar Tours, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Costsaver, Luxury Gold, Contiki, ATT Kings and The Red Carnation Hotels to name but a few.

I have been working in travel since 1998 and I’m a travel-aholic.   But I don’t just enjoy travelling of course.   I thoroughly enjoy all the trappings of working in one of the world’s best industries.  I’m also a mum to one little lady and living in Dublin.

What sets the The Travel Corporation and you apart?

What sets us apart is our 100% commitment to our guests. We offer holidays and experiences of a lifetime and that starts at the top and runs through the entire organization. We put the guest at the heart of everything we do.

What first attracted you to the Travel business?

The glamour, the travel, and the fact it feels like being on holiday instead of being in work.

Did you always want to work in travel, if so why?

At the age of just eight, I was fortunate to travel on an airplane.  From that first step into the airport I have never looked back. There is a saying that to work in travel it has to be in your blood, and I am convinced of that. Everything I do, always comes back to this industry. I could never see myself doing anything else.

Is yours niche or mainstream travel?

The Travel Corporation operate 30 brands worldwide and we play in the niche side of the business. And while we are award winning leaders in our field, we aren’t mass market. We offer the best of the best in touring, river cruising and hotels.

What are the top spots to visit in 2019 and why?

2019 has been an unusual year, and while 2018 saw the comeback of America for Irish people, what we are seeing for 2019 is that Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia are of real interest, and it’s about time.  Eastern Europe is so full of history and beauty, Scandinavia is so clean, in a word – breathtaking! Iceland is on many people’s bucket list, especially to see the Northern lights, and Russia is an incredible experience. I’ll never forget my first time in Red Square – I had goose bumps.

What are emerging trends/countries with great tourism potential?

Experiential travel has replaced traditional sun-driven holidays. People are motivated by enriching their lives and the lives of others. One of the biggest trends going forward is people searching the world for new experiences and stories. Sustainability is now a top priority in travel. Treadright a not for profit organization set up by the Travel Corporation brands is built around 3 pillars – people, wildlife, planet. Treadright’s mission is to have a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, to protect wildlife and marine life, and to care for the planet we call home, and this fits well with many people’s desire to make a difference through their travel experiences.

Name someone in Ireland's travel industry you admire?

Ciarán Mulligan, Blue Insurance.

What is the best thing about running your business?

Getting to meet wonderful people and travelling the world. I am a firm believer that travel opens doors that would never exist otherwise. I adore hearing from our happy guests – we sell dreams and I love matching dreams to reality.

And the worst thing?

Long hours, but because I love what I do, that doesn’t matter too much.

What do you never travel without?

My iPhone.


Mary Mc Kenna – Tour America

Mary Mc Kenna - Tour America
Mary Mc Kenna - Tour America

Q: Who are you?

I have been in the travel business over 35 years. My father was in the travel business and when he returned from the USA army in the late 1960's he set up Atlas Travel for his brother Andy.

He used to bring us into the office as kids on a Saturday and we would hover around putting stickers on brochures. He had a huge influence on my life and taught me about the importance of believing in myself and about giving back. I never worked with my Dad. He died when he was just 55 following a routine operation. I started in the airline business in Shannon with Northwest Airlines after leaving school. I got my pilots license for the job, but I have never flown a plane. I became a Duty Manager with Club Air in Dublin at the age of 23.

What sets Tour America and you apart?

Our attention to detail and five-star customer experience.  We have our own office based in the USA.  We are very niche, stick to the knitting and specialise in North America, the Caribbean and world-wide cruises. We started Cruise Holidays after 9/11 and today, we are the largest seller of cruises in both the North and South of Ireland.  We reward our staff based on customer experience and as a five-star brand we can be trusted to always do the right thing for our valued clients.

What attracted you first to the Travel business?

My father and I definitely had a love of travel, and we all lived in the USA for some time.  Both my parents emigrated to the USA from Ireland in the late 1950's

Did you always want to work in travel, if so why?

Yes, Because it was something I really enjoyed and my father was a great influence.

Is yours niche or mainstream travel?

We are very niche and that is what makes us unique in what we offer and the service we provide,  North America is our back garden.

What are the top spots to visit in 2019 and why?

The old favourites still remain, Orlando, Las Vegas and New York.  We are seeing a huge increase in the new cruise market.

What are emerging trends/countries with great tourism potential?

I really think that holistic holidays and fitness will be big in the future.  From an early stage Tour America & Cruise Holidays invested heavily in digital marketing and we were the first company to embrace the digital platform setting up an entire digital team many years ago.

Name someone in Ireland's travel industry you admire?

John Cassidy, I have known him for many years, I think he runs an amazing company and he is really nice guy who is full of integrity. Something that is amiss at times in our industry.

What is the best thing about running your business?

I think it is about freedom, and the ability to be able to get things done quickly without huge bureaucracy. I am very lucky that I love what I do so I don't consider it work.  My team are incredibly focused and we are always striving to raise our standards. I always want us to be better.

And the worst thing?

Sometimes it can be a very lonely place,  you never really switch off.  It’s a 24 hour a day commitment.

What do you never travel without?

Hate to say this but my phone.


Tanya Airey - Sunway

Tanya Airey - Sunway
Tanya Airey - Sunway

Q: Who are you?

For over a quarter century, I have been helping Irish people and their families enjoy their holidays. I am so proud of the fact that Sunway is a name practically synonymous with family holidays and I am now focused on the next quarter century.

I really enjoy what I do and am fortunate to work in such a vibrant and interesting business. I am lucky too that I am surrounded by smart people, both in Sunway and in the travel agencies that we work with.
When I am not working here in our Dun Laoghaire HQ, I spend time with Philip, my husband and our family. Golf and tennis are my go-to fun activities.

What sets Sunway and you apart?

Two things set us apart – we are a wholly owned Irish family business and we have great people working with us.  As a family business ourselves we know what it takes makes a good family holiday for our customers. We all work really hard together to ensure that happens. Our son Jamie who recently joined the company is very focused on new marketing and digital and brings a new energy to the business. I believe that being Irish is great for our customers as we understand the needs and requirements of Irish people.  We are in business now for 53 years and we look forward to many more.  I have huge respect for our staff, and I believe that they are the best in the business.  They always go the extra mile ensuring that our customers needs and expectations are met and surpassed.

What first attracted to the Travel business?

I was born into the travel business. My grandfather Roy Beatty started the business in 1966 and it was taken over by my aunt, Madeline Kilbride and afterwards by myself. I grew up hearing about the business at home – all the excitement and developments as well as the small setbacks in Sunway. It was a long apprenticeship, but I love the business and the daily challenges.

Did you always want to work in travel, if so why?

Yes, I did, – back in the 80’s mass travel was only taking off and I was so glad to be at the forefront of it. We pioneered package holidays to Morocco and still do to this day. It has been a great thrill making package holidays accessible and affordable for lots of Irish families. I love working with travel agencies and mutually growing our businesses. People in travel are very social and outgoing and I really enjoy the friendships that I have made.

Is yours niche or mainstream travel?

Both – Sunway can book a week in Lanzarote or a holiday to Costa Rica where you can visit and work on a coffee plantation. Nowadays clients are looking for more exotic and participative holidays and we are perfectly placed to offer that. Cruises are a huge growth area for Irish holidaymakers and are now considered mainstream. Sports and adventure holidays are also growing in popularity. However, sun holidays will always be part of the Sunway offering and we do them really well.

What are the top spots to visit in 2019 and why?

For value, it’s hard to beat Turkey with year round sunshine and picture postcard beauty. The beaches, food, culture and walks are unparalleled.  Cyprus offers year round sunshine with lovely beaches food & wine. Salou is a fantastic family beach destination with the added benefit of the theme parks of Port Aventura and Ferrari Land. Morocco offers wonderful two centre holidays with sunny Agadir and ancient Marrakesh.

What are emerging trends/countries with great tourism potential?

Personalisation is a huge trend – people value unique experiences while on holidays. Whether it is learning to make traditional clothes on an Inca tour or learning to trapeze on a Club Med all inclusive holiday. Travellers are becoming very aware of over tourism and rather than following the tourist trail to many cities they are opting for less well known destinations such as Izmir in Turkey.  Learning holidays are growing in popularity such as sports with Club Med or cooking on a River Cruise. Holidaymakers are returning to the traditional travel agent who does the hard work of arranging their trips.

Name someone in Ireland's travel industry you admire?

I really admired the late Gillian Bowler for her style, her perseverance and her vision.

What is the best thing about running your business?

I love working for myself.  The possibilities are endless in the travel business because the industry and travel is constantly evolving.

And the worst thing?

Being responsible for other people's well-being and income, however this gives me the motivation and discipline to be the hardest-working version of myself possible. Knowing I am responsible for so many salaries each month keeps me highly motivated.

What do you never travel without?

My phone – for work and pleasure.

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