Sarah Slattery Interviews Tanya Airey, Sunway

Sarah Slattery Interviews Tanya Airey, Sunway

When I walked into Tanya Airey’s office in Dun Laoghaire the first thing I noticed was an air of calmness. Considering Sunway is Ireland’s largest Irish-owned tour operator and it was one of the busiest times of the year, I got the impression that Tanya had everything very much under control.

Tanya Airey, MD Sunway


Tanya says she is extremely lucky with her team and there is no doubt that they make her job easier. Mary Denton, Deirdre Sweeny and their respective teams are key to Sunway’s success. Sunway has many long-serving staff, with many working there over 10 years, some over 20 and even 30 years. There is also, of course, the ‘face’ of Sunway for the travel trade, the vivacious Jeanette Taylor, who is out “pounding the paths to make sure the travel agents sell lots of Sunway holidays!” Tanya works alongside her husband Philip (Director), her father Jim (Chairman), and cousin Brian McGowan (Financial Director).

Although surrounded by loyal staff, Tanya monitors sales figures daily, meets with her general managers, makes marketing decisions and is “always planning and looking for the next opportunity”. Her hands-on approach is vital to the success of Sunway. Being able to make quick decisions on acquisitions, new routes and marketing strategies without having to consult with a parent company overseas has helped Tanya and Sunway become the successful indigenous Irish company that it is today.

Sunway’s mantra, that no matter what holiday you are looking for, Sunway should be able to offer it, is becoming a reality. The company’s latest acquisition, Wings Abroad, will make Sunway the largest operator to Turkey from Ireland. With new summer routes to Menorca and Lake Garda this year, the capacity is now staggering. Being fully licensed and bonded, thus protecting the consumer and the travel agent, is also something Tanya was keen to point out.

Sunway also has seven specialist brands and has recently added Mark Warner to its portfolio. This niche area is growing rapidly – and the company recently won Best Specialist Tour Operator at the Irish Travel Trade Awards. It appears they really do ‘have the world covered’.

Tanya feels that in this time of change businesses have to keep “re-inventing themselves”. There were times over the past few years, including the ash cloud crisis, 9/11 and even the heat wave of 2013, when predicting sales became impossible. Does she worry at all? While she never was a worrier when she was younger, she claims she does worry now! Thankfully she is able to switch off, a rarity with someone in her position.

She likes to exercise, which helps reduce stress and keeps her fit. She also loves to play golf, although not in bad weather! She is most definitely a family woman. She still finds time to go on holidays with her three children (although she claims this is getting harder) and usually has an annual gathering in Kelly’s of Rosslare with her extended family. Generally speaking though, she likes to go abroad, as holidaying in Ireland when you cannot be sure of the weather is not something that she likes to chance. Morocco “remains close to my heart”, because the country launched Sunway as a tour operator. She still likes to holiday there and enjoys a skiing trip too, but finds she doesn’t travel as much now because the children are older. Her favourite family holiday was South Africa but if travelling as a couple she would choose Lake Garda.

Tanya’s Short-Haul Answers

Diet or Exercise? – Exercise

Beer or Wine? – Wine

X Factor or Strictly? – Neither

George Clooney or Brad Pitt? – George Clooney

Dine in or Dine Out? – Dine out

Jeans or Skirt? – Skirt

Long-Haul or Short-Haul? – Short-haul

Bikini or Swimsuit? – Bikini

Apartment or Hotel? – Hotel

Beach or Pool? – Beach

Paris or New York? – New York

Last Self-Purchase – iPhone 6+ (and she loves it!)


There is no doubt in my mind that it is onwards and upwards for Sunway. Tanya has a policy of never standing still, so the only other question that needs to be asked is: “What is Tanya Airey going to acquire next for Sunway?”

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NEIL STEEDMAN has been a trade journalist, copywriter, editor and proofreader for 52 years, and News & Features Editor for ‘Irish Travel Trade News’ for the past 42 years.

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