Tuesday 19 September 2017

Sunway's Tanya Airey: 'My son was born the night before our first flight went out to Morocco - my waters broke in the office'

Tanya Airey (50) is the managing director of Sunway Travel. Her grandfather started the business. Born in Dublin, she lives in Dalkey with her husband, Philip, and their children - Jamie (24), Laura (22) and Max (17)

Tanya Airey, managing director of Sunway Travel
Tanya Airey, managing director of Sunway Travel

Ciara Dwyer

My husband's alarm goes off at 7am and mine is set for 7.15am, so I'm awake when the alarm goes off. But I prefer to have a few minutes to get it together. Like everyone in winter, I find it much more difficult to get out of bed when it's dark.

I change into my gym gear and I get up on my cross-trainer. I do 20 minutes. Then I jump in the shower, and afterwards I have a green smoothie while I'm getting ready. I make some porridge with seeds and stewed apple. A lot of mornings, I do a reformer Pilates class. I go straight there from the house, and after that, I go into work.

I used to walk the pier at lunchtime - our office is overlooking the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire - but then I found that once I was in the office, it was really hard to go out. Also, I could be at the end of the pier and the heavens would open.

I am the managing director of Sunway Travel. My grandfather set it up in 1966. My aunt, Madeleine Kilbride, took it over, and then, when she retired in 1998, I took over from her. I started working in the business when I was 18. I did a travel and tourism course, and I did work experience. Basically, I started on the counter, selling holidays. It's a family business. My husband, Philip, is a director in the company, and my sister and cousin are also involved in it.

When I get into the office, I open all the emails. Normally, I've already had a peek at the figures - all the bookings that come in the day before and the situation with flights. I see how we are fixed with regards to flights, which ones we need to push and which ones are doing fine. We charter flights to lots of European destinations, including Italy and Spain, and we have committed seats for different airlines. We also book tailor-made holidays for people who want to go to the US, or on worldwide long-haul holidays and cruise holidays. Cruises are hugely popular. We're the agents in Ireland for Club Med. It's an upmarket, all-inclusive holiday with the most amazing childcare.

In business, you have to keep on moving and figuring out what's the best way forward. We are Irish, and we know what Irish people like. They might go for a two-star apartment or a five-star deluxe hotel, but we know the type of places they like. Location is a huge part of it. People don't want to be in the middle of nowhere. It's about getting the product right. Because we are offering a package holiday, people know that from the beginning to the end, they are looked after by us. It's like you don't need insurance until you need it. When there was volcanic ash in 2010, lots of people got stuck in places, but all of our clients were looked after. The people who were in Morocco ended up getting a free extra week.

This year we're celebrating 25 years selling holidays to Morocco. My eldest is 24, and he was born the night before our first flight went out to Morocco. I was working right up to it, and it was fairly stressful. Two weeks off before my due date? You must be joking. My waters broke in the office. Obviously, I didn't relax in the hospital. It was a very exciting time.

When we started out with Morocco, we felt that we were doing missionary work, trying to explain to people that it was something a bit different. At the time, some people were fed up with the same old type of holiday destinations. We were a travel agency at that point, not just a tour operator, and we saw that Morocco was very reasonable. Everything about it was so interesting.

We went out on a site inspection to Marrakech and Agadir, and we decided to put something together. At that point, we weren't in a situation to put on charter flights, so we approached Royal Air Maroc and put packages together. We sold quite a number of them, but then the Gulf War broke out. It stopped nearly all travel. When that all finished, people were travelling more than ever. Because Irish people live on an island, they decide that nothing will stop them travelling.

We were selling really well, so we chartered our own aircraft to Morocco. It was a huge commitment. That was the December of 1992, and we filled our first flight. We did a lot of advertising and marketing, and we still do.

With Morocco, the flight is under four hours, yet you get the feeling that you're really away. You're in Africa. Right now, it is 23 degrees in Agadir. It still offers fantastic value for money. Even though it's a Muslim country, there is a western feel to it. People can have a few beers. So many ordinary Irish people really like it, and they go back again and again. We have a lot of repeat customers. People trust us. Also, when things go wrong on holidays, like when people get sick, they feel reassured with us. Our reps deal with any problems or language barriers.

We've gone on a lot of the holidays that we sell, so I know a lot about them from the point of view of being a family or a couple.

I leave the office between 5pm and 6.30pm. It might only be myself and Philip at home. Now that the kids are older, it's easier. Our youngest is at night study in school, as he is doing his Leaving this year. In the evenings, I read a book - I'm in a book club - or I watch TV. My hobbies are tennis and golf. I fit those in when I can. When I watch the news in the evening, I keep an eye on everything that is going on in the world. Certain events may affect travel.

I go to bed around 10pm. I never completely switch off from work, but that doesn't mean I'd be worrying about it. I'm constantly making lists on my phone. They laugh about this in the office. Before I drift off, I make more lists for the next day. I never get through them, because I keep adding things. I keep on moving it, and nothing gets dropped. In business, you have to be relentless.

Sunway is celebrating 25 years selling holidays to Morocco, see sunway.ie

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