Creating Meaningful Experiences Beyond Tourism – Claire Hanney

by | 3 Nov 2021

To all the wandering souls who aim for a career in travel, it would appear that Claire Hanney has achieved the dream. Traversing the globe in search of fantastic experiences in lesser-known destinations, Claire rarely sets a suitcase down without picking up another. She is the ultimate representation of the industry – a high flyer who not only has an eye on the next travel trends, but is instrumental in creating them.

In this series, Follow Her Path, we’re focusing on the women who are integral to the Travel Corporation. Inspiring, dedicated and passionate, they are fantastic role models for anyone choosing a path in travel. Claire has spent much of working life with The Travel Corporation, but that doesn’t mean that her trajectory has been linear and nor would she want it to be.

A hugely influential part of any vacation with Insight, Claire Hanney fundamentally believes that she finds her happiness in creating and curating incredible travel experiences for others. This was further realized with the launch of the Wander Women tours earlier this year, dedicated women-only tours that include enriching MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, and help travelers connect more deeply with each community they visit.

Fresh from launching exciting plans for the 2022/2023 travel season for Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, Claire spent some time reflecting on her career so far and the wisdom that she has gained along the way.


Go with Your Gut

Claire reveals that her journey began even before she was born, “My mother took a Contiki tour through Europe in 1973, and I grew up watching slides of it, obviously inspiring a deep desire to travel.” However, by the time Claire was in her 20s, she hadn’t yet left Australia, instead pouring her energy into her role as public relations manager for a large firm. Keenly aware that there was a world out there to explore, she decided to leave her job and take a role with Contiki as a Trip Manager in 2005.

“People thought I had lost it,” Claire laughs, “I was taking a huge pay cut and leaving everything I knew, including a secure job at a great company.” It paid off, as less than six months into her new role, she knew that it was the happiest she had ever been. “I took a job to explore the world and go on adventures, but I didn’t realize that helping others achieve their travel dreams was even more fulfilling.”

After a few years on the road, Claire moved into training new Trip Managers for Contiki and then progressed to Quality Control manager for the Travel Corporation’s premium brands. She explains that exactly ten years ago, she took stock of where she was and her aims, “I reviewed every company across the globe that operated in the guided travel space, looking for changemakers that I wanted to work with.”

Surprisingly, her research didn’t lead her as far as one would think – she found one of those changemakers within the Travel Corporation, (then) Director of Operations, Ulla Hefel Böhler. Claire made the brave move of picking up the phone and telling Ulla that she wanted to work with her. Showing that bold moves pay off handsomely, Claire found herself working alongside Ulla less than three months later. She says that looking back, she’s even prouder of that move now, as it has led to being surrounded by people who share a similar ethos. “We recognize where we are, but we’re continuously planning to be better,” Claire observes.

Traveling the Lesser Worn Paths

Claire’s appetite for adventure is contagious, and she admits that staying in one place is peculiar for her. She notes that at any one time, she could have three different suitcases packed according to climate, and sometimes it’s a matter of dropping one to pick up another.

“When you visit the Cristina Heeran Foundation in Seville for a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience, it’s easy to forget that I visited dozens of different foundations before we found one suitable,” Claire smiles. These experiences are carefully chosen by Claire and her team to go beyond tourism and have a positive impact on both the community and the guest. “Part of my goal, and why we work with the TreadRight Foundation, is to ensure sustainable tourism and visit places that aren’t the usual tourist hotspots.” Finding ways to give guests access to unusual destinations and encounters is fascinating and building relationships with the locals is another part of the role that Claire is passionate about.

“If you’re going to work in travel, then you need to be out there, traveling,” Claire asserts, “that’s what opens your eyes and stokes the fire for this job.”

Achievement Transcends Gender

As Claire is part of a female-led team, it’s natural to see the positives from working with other women. She rejoices in the fact that she is surrounded by incredible people and feels honored to work with them daily. They are constantly on a quest to be better, and to deliver the best in terms of travel. Claire describes the team as pragmatic and says there is never any drama. However, she points out that ethos doesn’t just come from gender. She credits Brett Tollman’s vision, as CEO of the Travel Corporation, as one of the reasons that women have an easier time getting promoted in travel now.

“In terms of diversity, it’s not just women that need to represented, but LGBTQ+, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people all need to be at the table. In The Travel Corporation, those conversations are happening. We’re aware of where we are and we want to do better.” Claire’s comments are supported by The Travel Corporation’s How We Tread Right 2025 plan, which use the UN’s Global Goals as a blueprint for sustainability. More than 56% of the TTC’s employees are women, while 50% of leadership roles in the organization are occupied by women, which is 10% more than the travel industry average. Through TTC IDEA, an employee-led platform across the organization, members are advancing diversity and inclusion and the company began a silver level partnership with the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association in 2019.

“Opportunities with our company aren’t limited by gender, but you need to have the drive and passion to challenge yourself every day.” These are some of the reasons that Claire has stayed within this family of brands for almost two decades.

The Luxuries of a Long-Term Traveler

It’s interesting to learn that Claire doesn’t travel first class on planes. She claims that she doesn’t mind premium economy but she does have some little luxuries. Primary among these is her lounge pass, which she renews without fail every year. “Having somewhere comfortable to work with great wi-fi and easy access to food and refreshments is a bonus, it just makes traveling much easier.” It makes perfect sense when you need to work from anywhere.

A crucial part of exploring each destination is the cuisine, and Claire is always on the hunt for new street food. Whether it’s delicious dolmades while on the Treasures of Greece & the Islands tour, or aloo chaat in Delhi on the Inspirational India tour, Claire has sampled it. She has followed some of the best chefs around the world, so Insight Vacations guests know that they are truly tasting some of the finest dishes on earth.

“I’m very proud that Insight Vacations has become the chosen tour company for vegetarians,” Claire adds, “we have sourced the best menus and restaurants across the globe because we believe you shouldn’t have to compromise. Vegetarian guests are entitled to as much variety as meat eaters on our tours, and we aim to fulfil that in every destination possible.”

From dining at home with locals to thoughtful menus in stunning locations, Deliciously Authentic Dining with Insight lets travelers truly taste the destination in a variety of ways.

Viewing Life Through a Different Lens

When questioned about the sacrifices that Claire has made for her career, she prefers to see it from another perspective. “My life is richer because of travel. I may not live a life that people consider normal and I’ve certainly missed other people’s milestone events such as weddings or christenings, but I have close friends dotted all over the world and they know that when I’m there, I’m fully present.”

This is one area where she admits that might be easier for men, “There’s a certain acceptance when men are away – it’s been seen as a masculine thing, whether they were in the military or traveled for work. For women, it’s more of a taboo.” Relationships may not be traditional, but she’s made them work and feels lucky with the people she’s met along the way.

Although Claire says that things people can take for granted may be more difficult when you spend life on the road, there are definitely other benefits she’s enjoyed that people who stay static don’t. The connections that she has made with locals in remote communities and places that many will never visit have stayed with her. Making a positive impact in those people’s lives is enriching in numerous ways and has made her lifelong friends.

The Changing Faces of Travel

In one of the fastest moving industries in the world, Claire is a dynamic force. She envisions more sustainable tourism and it’s something that she works on with her team constantly. “We want to offer meaningful experiences that are beyond tourism, as that’s where people’s lives are changed – on both sides. Meeting and learning about someone who has lived a completely different life than you have is life-affirming, it shows how and why we all matter.”

This is why the MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences are close to Claire’s heart. “These are carefully chosen to make travel a force for good, and this is at the heart of what I do.”
Claire believes that all the magic moments people experience when they travel are a result of careful planning behind the scenes. “It’s like devising a novel – you build in the high points, hold the interest of the audience and structure it for climatic effect,” she explains that’s how each day and journey are planned for Insight Vacations, making it even more special.

Although Claire has achieved so much on her journey, she reiterates the importance of having a great team. “Seek out innovators and find the right people to work with, and you’ll have a fantastic career, no matter which industry you choose.”

I'm Alex, Editor of Insightful. I have over 10 years' experience as a travel writer and editor, and have been lucky enough to visit some incredible destinations in that time. Canada, Italy and Iceland are (so far) my favorite places on Earth, but at the top of my wish list for future adventures is India. I'm fascinated by indigenous cultures and traditions, have a hearty appetite for history (but a poor memory for dates), and feel most at home in wild, unpopulated landscapes.