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Travel Leaders: Susan Haberle, Abercrombie & Kent, VP Sales & Partnerships

Susan Haberle of Abercrombie & Kent is one of those rare individuals who truly listens when you speak. She cares deeply—about people and the world we're fortunate enough to explore. Her story is one of human connection and an unwavering dedication to the world of travel and the global community. Here, she reflects on the transformative power of travel and the joy of building lasting partnerships.

Susan Haberle of Abercrombie & Kent is one of those rare individuals who truly listens when you speak. She cares deeply—about people and the world we’re fortunate enough to explore. Her story is one of human connection and an unwavering dedication to the world of travel and the global community. Here, she reflects on the transformative power of travel and the joy of building lasting partnerships.

When she was six, Susan Haberle played Mary in the local Christmas nativity play. Those who know Susan, know that she is not one to take any role lightly. Even at six.

“I was very committed to being Mary,” she tells Karryon.

“So when they told me to rock the baby Jesus doll, I rocked him. I rocked him so hard that the doll’s head fell off.  

“If I’m in something, I’m in it wholly and I give it 150%.”

Her sisters call her bossy. Susan prefers to say she’s good at “rallying the troops”. 

Perhaps that’s why she was made school captain or maybe it was because she wasn’t afraid to get in front of people and talk. Not much has changed.

The call of travel

Travel wasn’t a massive part of her childhood, but Susan has vivid memories of first getting on a plane at eight years old and travelling to Queensland from Victoria. 

“Even though it was just a two-hour flight, I felt like my whole world had changed,” she says. 

“The fact that I could transport myself into a whole new environment blew me away.

“And even though we didn’t travel widely and I didn’t go overseas until I was in my early twenties, at that moment I knew that one day I would travel a lot and see so much more of the world.”

Susan studied drama at university, and was waiting for her friends to finish their studies so they could travel together. 

“It was like waiting for paint to dry,” she tells Karryon.

“I was working as a social worker at the time and one day I went to the local Harvey World Travel in my lunch break and I bought a return ticket to London. 

“I put my resignation in and three weeks later, I was on a plane.”

Susan’s whole family came out to the airport to say goodbye for what they thought would be only three months. 

Farewelling Susan Haberle
Farewelling Susan.

“I cried all the way to Singapore,” Susan says.

But then she started chatting to someone on the plane on the next leg and knew she was doing the right thing.  

“I came home seven years later.”

On the road

Susan recalls travelling with a couple of girlfriends to Cinque Terre, having booked nothing. 

“We were flying by the seat of our pants and we arrived in Riomaggiore in the middle of July and nothing was available. All of the B&Bs, the hotels, the hostels were all sold out and there were no trains out of the place that night. 

“And there was a local nonno (grandfather) at the station who saw us. In his very broken English he asked us where we were going to sleep that night. When we told him everything was full, he left and came back with his sister and they took us back to her house and set up a spare room for us. 

“They cooked us dinner that night, and brought in bruschetta the next morning. And it was one of the most amazing experiences. 

“We ended up staying eight days at their place. And we almost became part of the family. 

“Of course looking back now you think it could have gone badly, but I trusted and still believe that there is innate goodness in people, that we have a global community.”

Susan Haberle backpacking through Europe.
Susan backpacking through Europe.

Susan eventually ended up in Greece where she worked on one of the islands, before working on a kibbutz in Israel. She then spent a few months in India, where she realised she still wasn’t ready to go home. 

“There was still so much more of the world I wanted to see, so instead of getting a plane back to Melbourne, I got on the plane back to London.                        

“But I knew I needed to get work and that’s when I got my first role in the travel industry.

“I knew I’d found my passion.”

That first role was with Contiki as a sales manager in their London office. After twelve months, Susan trained to be a tour manager and then spent five years on the road throughout Europe, Egypt, Russia and Scandinavia, leading about 70 Contiki tours in all.

Susan Haberle working for Contiki
Spot Susan.

“It was a great way to grow up and learn. I was on my own looking after the welfare of 50 clients and it was my responsibility to bring the itinerary to life for them and to deliver it as per what they purchased.

“You learn resilience, leadership, patience, and tolerance.”

I ask Susan if she ever tired of the travel and the travellers. 

“I always said whenever I wake up and I don’t want to go on tour, or I start to feel jaded, that is the time I need to leave. Because I wanted to have that passion on every trip for my clients. For them, it was their first time in all those countries. I never got to that stage.”

But Susan did eventually decide to return home after five seasons. 

“I was very focused on starting a career back here in the Australian market. I had seen sometimes when tour managers were away from home for so long it was hard for them to assimilate to life back home. And I really wanted to reengage with my family and my friends. 

“Looking back, I’m really glad I left when I did, because I left when I still loved it.”

Life in the Australian travel industry

Back in Australia, Susan started teaching tourism at TAFE.  

“It was great because it enabled me to tap into my passion of travel, and put it alongside the curriculum that I needed to teach.”

One night, while preparing for a class on how conflict affects tourism, Susan turned on the TV to see planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City. The next day, she rolled a TV into her classroom and told her class that, ‘What we are now watching will change the face of travel forever’. This was a prime example of how resilient the industry needs to be, she told her students. 

Susan eventually moved into a role with what was then Tourism Queensland, Sunlover Holidays, as an on-road BDM. She was then promoted to National Sales Manager, moved to Brisbane and had a “fantastic time”.

Sunlover Super Stars

“I got to know the retail landscape within Australia. I got to know the beautiful state of Queensland inside out. And because Queensland was incredibly popular with our trade partners, I got to work closely with them, and I still work with many of them today in my current role!”

It was in this role that Susan learned about the joy of building a good sales team. 

“Getting the right people with the right attitude in the right job to forge real partnerships with the travel agent community was something I still use today.”

“I think a huge issue facing our industry across the board is attracting and retaining new talent,” Susan says.

“We are in the dream-making business and despite the world and the industry changing, we can’t lose sight of that.

“But I think we just need to not take ourselves too seriously. We need to be advocates of passion and fun and really promote that with everybody we’re in touch with. Because that’s what makes our industry so unique.

“We know how to have a good time, but we’re solution-focused.”

Susan Haberle at the Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Small Group Journeys brochure launch.

“It’s all about partnerships and working together. The industry always gets through by pulling together and supporting each other.”

Her inspiration

Susan is a guiding light to many in the industry, but to Susan, her mum is her hero. Susan’s mum worked in a women’s refuge for domestic violence victims. 

“My mum went back to school at the age of 50 to get her high school certificate. And I really admired that she always kept pressing on to improve herself. 

Susan Haberle and her mum, Jan
Susan and her mum, Jan

“But she hit my hero status when my father was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two months before he was due to retire. He was given two years and we cared for him at home and Mum ensured that, particularly the last six months when he was really bad, we had a really positive environment in the home. 

“My mum was a rock for our whole family. She inspires me every day. And at the age of 70, she was still working in the domestic violence field and even got headhunted by another company! At the age of 70!

“She’s remarkable. I always look up to her and am awed how, in the face of adversity, she conducts herself with positivity, with grace with humour, and always with care.” The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

Susan Haberle and her mum, Jan

Susan still travels a lot these days and I ask her if she still has the same excitement now when she gets on the plane as she did when she was eight. 

“It depends if I’m turning left or right,” she jokes. 

“But I still get the same excitement when I land and know there’s a whole new world out there for me to discover.”