The industry’s champion of UK holidays and all‑round funnyman exits the stage this month to enter the world of retirement. He speaks to Juliet Dennis
When Graham Balmforth retires from Super Break at the end of this month, we will all be sad to see him go.
During a career of more than 40 years in travel, Graham has taught countless agents about the virtues of UK holidays.
He may have started in travel “just a small man from Yorkshire trying to do my best” but he leaves it as an industry treasure.
After 23 years as Super Break’s national sales manager, Graham is known by agents nationwide for his passion for selling domestic breaks. But it is Graham’s sense of fun and his ability to take to the stage like a professional, doing anything from dressing up as Patsy from Ab Fab to playing the ukulele, that have made him an even more popular figure in the trade.
Who could forget the many guises Graham has appeared in during his 14 years of comedy acts at Super Break-hosted dinearounds at the Advantage Travel Partnership conference?
With the late Ian Mounser, former sales director at Super Break, at his side, the duo transformed themselves into everything from the Men in Black to Kevin and Perry.
Graham recalled: “At my first Advantage conference in 1999, Ian said we should tell agents about our new programme at the dinearound. I said let’s do something off the wall, so we became the Men in Black. Ian was very straight-laced but, of course, the first time he did it, he loved it.
“We never told people what we were going to do. I don’t think anyone else was doing this type of thing when we started.”
Graham’s ability to perform was picked up early on; his schoolteacher tried to persuade him to apply to drama school Rada at the age of 16, but that would have meant leaving Yorkshire and his girlfriend. He said: “That girl became my wife. I have been able to do acting within the industry and I’ve had a great time.”
His first job, aged 18, was as publicity assistant for National Travel, the coach holiday arm of National Express, before becoming an on-the-road sales executive.
Graham’s next job was national sales manager and later sales and marketing director at Wallace Arnold, becoming compere for its annual cabaret show.
He joined Super Break in 1995 as regional sales manager, north, and within six months became national sales manager and never looked back.
“When I joined there was no internet or mobile phones; blackberries were something you took off a bush; and you opened the post at your desk.
“Super Break was more or less a bed bank. Now we are all about packages, hotels, trains, and Iceland is our bestseller behind London.”
From 2008-10 Graham was chairman of Tipto, and since September 2017 has been chairman of Abta’s UK tourism group.
“I have always tried to champion the UK and get agents to think domestic. It has always been a challenge, but I like to think I’ve been able to do that,” he said.
“You can have as much fun in a rock pool with wellies on as you can in the sun in Majorca. It’s not about replacing your Majorca holiday; it’s in addition.”
Graham, who turns 60 this year, plans to spend more time with his family, although he may take on consultancy work. He added: “I will miss the craic and the people. But it’s better to get tired of the show before the audience does.”
In a fitting ‘last hurrah’ at the Travel Weekly Globe Travel Awards last week, Graham collected Super Break’s awards for Best Accommodation-Only Provider and Best Operator UK Holidays.
Goodbye, Graham, and happy retirement. We’ll miss you!
Graham’s career in travel
1976-84: publicity assistant and later sales executive at National Travel, the coach holiday division of National Express
1984-95: national sales manager, and later sales and marketing manager, Wallace Arnold
1995-2018: regional sales manager, north, for six months, then national sales manager, Super Break
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