Northern Lights Scandinavia Insight Vacations2

Who knows travel better than those who have dedicated their lives to it? In this series, 7travel talks travel & tips with industry experts. Learn the best travel tips, what mistakes not to make, and what destinations should be on your to-visit list. 

The phrase 'comfort is king' takes on new meaning when it comes to luxury travel. Claire Hanney, Head of Travel Experiences at Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, takes her pleasant demeanor and bubbly personality all over the world to specially curate perfect itineraries for her guests' trips abroad. Her dedication to making memorable moments for her guests through a combination of spectacular destinations, personal touches, and top-of-the-line creature comforts sets her trips apart. We had the opportunity to chat about luxury travel as a whole and what destinations we have to look forward to as the 'hot ones' for 2019.

Claire Hanney Head of Experiences Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold

What got you started in travel and what keeps you motivated today?

I got into the industry because I love to travel. I wanted to find a way to continue to travel and be paid for it! I didn’t ever want to stop travelling. After working as a trip manager, I changed my tune considerably: I went from being a person who was keen to travel herself to falling in love with making people happy. Seeing guests’ faces light up every trip made me feel a pure joy. It’s those happy guests who continue motivating me to make sure that we’re creating magical moments that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

The truth is that we receive so much fantastic feedback that my biggest challenge is to make sure that our repeat guests are on their toes, that their next trip is even better than the last! My job is the best in the entire world.

What will be the hot destinations for travel in 2019?

There is no destination that is better for romantic travel, families, or any other lifestyle. At each of these destinations, you can find what’s best suited to you.

This year, Scandinavia has grown so much as a hot destination for Australians. But in 2019, I want Australians to visit during winter! Take the opportunity to see something you’d never normally see: the Northern Lights. Kids can enjoy husky dog sledding while couples can find romance when it gets dark early in the day.

Greece continues to be a very popular destination. Our Greek Island Hopper trip visits islands that have been on the tourist trail for some time, but we go beyond the beaten path. We take our guests on a foodie walk in the backstreets of Mykonos that allows guests to eat local cuisine and see a side of the island that they wouldn’t typically get to visit.

Windmills and water view in Greece

Malta is great for Australian visitors because there isn’t a language barrier, the climate is warm, and it’s absolutely stunning. This is another destination that is made for foodies. Walk through the stalls at the food market in Marsaxlokk, dine on a seafood lunch, and mix with the locals. There’s so much beauty and that you could make a full trip here, or it makes the perfect stop along a longer trip to other destinations.

Malta view of water and buildings

One destination that has been growing in popularity is Jordan. It’s a great time to visit because this is a destination that is going to be huge in a few years - get the bragging rights by visiting now! We’ve increased our trip’s itinerary in Jordan so that our guests can truly see the beauty of this country. We’ve recently added a night of luxurious ‘glamping’ in Bedouin tents in the middle of the desert with a delicious dinner under the stars. And we’ve even added a few nights in Petra, which gives our guests the special opportunity to see Petra by night.

It’s important that we give back to the land we visit and the culture of the local communities. Thanks to our TreadRight Foundation, every guests who travels with us contributes in a way to this incredible foundation. In Jordan, one of the fantastic programs that we get to support is the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative, which helps local women find and keep employment by creating handicrafts such as paper, fabric, ceramics, and more that continue the traditions of the region. We’re proud to be associated with them, but what’s even better is that they allow our guests immerse themselves into the culture by helping them make the handicrafts.

Have you visited a destination that surpassed your expectations in any way?

When it comes to Italy, you know you can expect incredible food. The pizza, the pasta… of course, it’s divine. But what I was so surprised to find is that the Florentine steak - bistecca alla fiorentina - was better than any other steak that I’ve ever had! It was so mouth-wateringly delicious and I haven’t been able to find a steak like this anywhere else.

What does ‘luxury’ travel mean to you?

I draw my inspiration for luxury from my favourite fashion designer Coco Chanel. She said very simply ‘luxury must be comfortable. Otherwise, it is not luxury.' Luxury needs to feel comfortable. Every aspect needs to make a guest feel valued, happy, and comfortable. In tangible terms, this means that a guest never lines up, so we always beat the lines and usher our tourists inside so that they’re comfortable; a comfortable dining experience is one when you’re treated like a family member by the person serving delicious food; on our trips, the flow of each day allows our guests to feel comfortable while they’re seeing the most fantastic destinations.

One of the reasons that the guided vacations will always be an important category in the travel industry - and will continue to grow - is because we can deliver experiences at a level that no app could! Our human touch, the introduction to locals by the team on the ground, and the high standard of comfort is unparalleled.

Family enjoying pizza in Italy

As someone who travels long haul all the time, can you share your tricks you have for getting through long flights?

Listen to your body! Don’t try to trick your body by thinking about when it’s morning, when it’s night. Have a sleep mask and ear plugs ready the same way you have a book or a movie picked out for the flight. If you’re sleepy, have a sleep. If you’re awake, do something. It’s so simple and it completely eliminates the idea of jetlag.