The day I stood up as an LGBTI ally was a personal and professional high point – and it has made a big difference to our business.
At Hoseasons, we sell holidays which are one of the most emotional purchases people make. So it’s critical they feel welcome and we help them find something perfect.
We’ve been doing that brilliantly for 70 years. But times have changed. And taking the first step on a diversity and inclusion journey has opened up new possibilities for us.
Updating a loved 70-year-old brand
We started this journey in 2014 as a trusted, successful, family-focused business. But our brand was a bit old-fashioned.
We are the best at hot tubs and 70% of our business is lodge holidays. But we weren’t reaching key new markets for that kind of holiday.
So we asked ourselves how we could make all stakeholders – customers, trade, partners and employees – proud of Hoseasons?
We wanted to keep our values, but consider what they meant to us today. And we wanted to reach new and emerging markets and sustain long-term growth.
Our vision was to create ‘a better place to stay’. Holidays that welcome guests regardless of race or sexuality. A brand that celebrates the values we hold as a team. And a way to reach new guests and partners, who share our values.
Changing our image
As a sales and marketing person, I was keen to review all our marketing. We looked at our website, emails, the content we produce and our advertising, including the models we use.
It was all about white heterosexuals with 2.4 children. That didn’t reflect the UK or match our aspirations and values.
We had to be better.
That first year, we reviewed all our photography and models. Our new materials included more groups, more couples and – most importantly – more diversity.
Our new visuals changed the face of Hoseasons and set the tone for everything that followed.
Next we started reaching out to vloggers. We wanted real people to try luxury lodges. And we wanted to open our arms to LGBTI guests.
The result was entertaining content that people could relate to, like this video from Our Swirl Life:
We couldn’t do it all alone. So we started a media partnership with Gay Star News, including adverts, editorial, social, video and competitions.
We’ve created great content together. And we’ve learned more about how to engage LGBTI people. GSN has been flexible, so we can try new ideas as we learn more.
We are now making our site more relevant. So anyone who visits Hoseasons from GSN will be greeted by tailored LGBTI pages with useful content and appropriate images.
We also support Norwich Pride – it feels really right for our team to be part of that special day in our ‘home’ town.
Putting it into our core marketing plan
We want all our customers to see our marketing is diverse – whether they are LGBTI or not.
You’ll see diversity in our magazine ads, our brochures, our email and on our site. If you search for ‘LGBT Hoseasons’ online, you will find meaningful content.
Customers have really embraced our new campaigns. They’ve changed how our brand is perceived. Younger, more progressive audiences now see us as more modern.
Hoseasons has seen record growth. And for the first time in our history, we are taking more couples and groups than families on holiday.
This year we have seen a 22% increase in web traffic from 18 to 34s.
And these new customers are booking. Nearly a quarter of our Autograph Luxury Lodge resorts have seen a sharp increase in the number of LGBTI couples in the last 12 months.
Can I statistically confirm all of this is down to embracing diversity? Not entirely. But I am sure diversity is feeding our long-term growth.
And our strategy is now gaining industry recognition. Hoseasons won the TTG LGBT-friendly Travel Company of the Year award for 2017. That has inspired our whole team to do even more.
Our colleagues are excited and driven by what we are doing.
People can be themselves at work and more productive and more engaged.
Diversity has given us a new way to showcase the unique culture we have at Hoseasons. And that helps us recruit talent, particularly millennials, who care about our business values.
Hoseasons has always benefited from high levels of staff retention. Over 25% of our people have been with us for over 10 years. Now our inclusion strategy means people are confident they’ll be supported throughout their Hoseasons career.
We asked our colleagues about the culture in a survey. One replied: ‘It’s properly real – diversity is not forced. The world out there is the world in here.’
Our people are our most important asset. So if they can see that, it’s a huge endorsement.
Integrating into the business
We’ve taken diversity and inclusion beyond marketing and made it core to our business.
We have an open dialogue with our employees to ensure they take it as seriously as we do.
The teams own this through our D&I council. They provide regular updates to the business on news, activity and events, and they spearhead our attendance at Norwich Pride.
Beyond the business we are very active in the local community, a known area of deprivation.
We speak about diversity at local events and chambers of commerce. And we support young people to gain skills and access work.
Allow yourself to make mistakes
For many marketers, there is a big fear of getting it wrong and getting backlash.
I worried about that, and so did every other ally I have spoken to. You will make mistakes, and so did we. But our audience allowed us to.
Business leaders need to take the pressure off of their marketing functions and allow them to experiment and innovate.
Take your work home
Since taking a stand at work, I have started to share my journey more with my children. It matters to me partly because of the world I want them to grow up in.
I want them to know I will always support them. And I want them to feel encouraged and empowered to be their true selves, knowing I’ll never judge them for doing that.
The journey I am on has made me a better manager and a better person. Diversity and inclusion have opened my eyes to the broader challenges in the UK. I’m more aware of the challenges that women still face in the workplace, the gender pay gap, stigma around mental health, racism and homophobia.
Becoming a champion
Business owners shouldn’t just care about diversity and inclusion. They must be active ambassadors of it. They need to champion their personal values, their business’ values and the cultural values of their workplace.
It’s our responsibility as national brand that takes over 1.5million customers on holiday every year to educate our existing customers and influence the next generation.
My dream now is to create a stronger travel industry for all of us. And I hope to share my experiences with other marketing teams to help them join us.
Anthony Reilly is sales and marketing director of Hoseasons.