Holiday firm boss: 'I don't want racist or homophobic customers'

PUBLISHED: 09:04 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:36 29 August 2019

Simon Altham, chief portfolio officer at Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons, opens up about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Simon Altham, chief portfolio officer at Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons, opens up about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The boss of a famous East Anglian holiday firm has boldly declared he will not accept bookings from homophobic or racist customers stating: "Book with another agent."

Simon Altham, chief portfolio officer at Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons, opens up about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Picture: Ella WilkinsonSimon Altham, chief portfolio officer at Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons, opens up about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The boss of a famous East Anglian holiday firm has boldly declared he will not accept bookings from homophobic or racist customers stating: "Book with another agent."

Simon Altham, chief portfolio officer of Awaze UK, the owners of Hoseasons, has revealed frank details of his own personal struggle as a gay man in business and has told people with extreme views to book elsewhere.

"I came to the conclusion that Hoseasons as a brand needed to stand for something and I don't want racist or homophobic customers booking with Hoseasons. If you are homophobic or racist, Hoseasons isn't the right brand for you," he said.

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"I think it was important to make that decision - book with another agent. You've got to be bold enough. Why would you want racist or homophobic people buying your products? They're not nice people. If that is your market you've got to ask yourself 'is that the right market?'"

Mr Altham, 44, who lives with his gamekeeper partner, and manages more than 300 staff in the Hoseasons headquarters in Lowestoft, agreed to become a diversity role model for Hoseasons about five years ago.

Simon Altham, collects the Best Large Special Interest Holiday Company award at the British Travel Awards in 2016. Pic: Archant librarySimon Altham, collects the Best Large Special Interest Holiday Company award at the British Travel Awards in 2016. Pic: Archant library

He now helps employees who are struggling with their sexuality - but it has been a struggle. At school he was bullied so badly vicious attackers put him in hospital.

But he refused to keep his sexuality a secret and decided to be frank with his employers and employees.

As a result, he has spearheaded a major change in Hoseasons which now promotes same-sex holidays as well as encouraging an ethos of diversity.

"Six years ago a travel industry colleague, who isn't himself gay, approached me and asked me if I had thought about doing more in terms of LGBT and I didn't understand the relevance to talk about being gay in the workplace.

Hoseasons promotes same sex holidays thanks to a change implemented by Simon Altham. Pic: HoseasonsHoseasons promotes same sex holidays thanks to a change implemented by Simon Altham. Pic: Hoseasons

"Most people knew I was but it wasn't something I talked about. So I went to London to talk to young LGBT homeless people. Afterwards, he said: 'Do you realise you've given all of those people hope that being gay is not a barrier to being a successful leader in the workplace?' They were all there because they'd been kicked out of their homes, struggling to find their place in the world because of their sexuality.

"That was the beginning of it. Hoseasons was a brand which needed a bit of modernisation so we started a journey."

But it was a trip on a train to Great Yarmouth, that made Mr Altham realise just how much change was needed in the firm.

"It was about five years ago and a black family got on the train and sat near me. The dad said they were going to the Vauxhall Holiday Park. He said they'd booked through Hoseasons, that they lived in south London, and were worried about taking the kids into a rural community but his brother had told him to book with us 'because there's a black person in the brochure.'

The Hoseasons HQ in Lowestoft. Pic: ArchantThe Hoseasons HQ in Lowestoft. Pic: Archant

"I came to work the next day and asked for all the Hoseasons marketing from the last 12 months to be put out on the boardroom table. 'Tell me what you see.' I said. The people were all white and you know, the thing that shocked me was that I'd known the page the man on the train was referring to in our 396 page brochure.

"So from that moment I decided we were going to make sure our models and marketing were representative of modern Britain, go hell for leather in the LGBT space, be brave, use same-sex models in our brochures and we got the support of the owners of the business. We had to be very headstrong and recognise there were risks but we didn't have any property owners leaving.

"So, it was a risk but you have to be bold and recognise the demographic of your customers has changed. You become a richer business because a young workforce want to work with companies which have good values. I've always believed in being honest so I've always said in an interview I'm gay. I thought if I'm going to progress my career - as I was a leader early on, I was a manager aged 24 - if I'm going to lead these people, they need to actually know who I am.

"My advice is you have to be yourself otherwise people won't trust you and trust is so important in leadership.

Simon Altham, chief portfolio officer of Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons. Pic: contributedSimon Altham, chief portfolio officer of Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons. Pic: contributed

"The best way to talk about it in a business context is the commercial benefit, regardless of the ethical view, fundamentally if you have a diversity inclusion agenda you will recruit and retain the best employees, for sure."

Tomorrow: Mr Altham's own personal struggle of being gay growing up in the 1990s.

Hoseasons promote same sex holidays after Simon Altham helped spearhead a change. Pic: HoseasonsHoseasons promote same sex holidays after Simon Altham helped spearhead a change. Pic: Hoseasons

Hoseasons promote family holiday and ensures its images are representative of the British population. Pic: HoseasonsHoseasons promote family holiday and ensures its images are representative of the British population. Pic: Hoseasons

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