26 Feb 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Leisure Management
2014 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Term-time holidays


Term-time holidays

Is the UK government’s crackdown on term-time holidays damaging tourism?

Headteachers are no longer able to authorise requests for parents to take their children out of school during term time.

Reporting by Jak Phillips and Magali Robathan
In September 2013, legislation came into force meaning that headteachers are no longer able to authorise requests for parents to take their children out of school during term time. Previously, heads were able to use their discretion to authorise absences in ‘special circumstances’, which allowed some parents to take their children out of school for short breaks or holidays when prices were lower, however, under the new rules, parents can now be fined £60 per child per week for unauthorised absence.

Some parents are furious about this change, saying that it hits families who can’t afford to go away during the school holidays, when prices can be as much as double those during term time. In turn operators say the rules are affecting their businesses, and that they’re seeing a drop in the numbers of families taking shorter breaks out of season.

So are the new rules fair? What impact are they having on the tourism industry? And are tourism companies exploiting families by hiking up their prices during the school holidays, or is it a simple case of supply and demand, with organisations making money during the peak season to see them through the rest of the year?

We speak to some of those affected by the change to find out.

Our users think holiday companies are exploiting parents


Justine Roberts
Justine Roberts CEO Mumsnet

With the introduction of fines for taking children out of school during term-time combined with sky-high travel costs it feels like a lose-lose situation for parents. Three quarters of Mumsnet users think holiday companies are exploiting parents who have no choice about when they travel.

Obviously it’s hard to refute the laws of supply and demand, but equally, holiday companies seem to be happily making extraordinary profits out of families and not surprisingly many feel that they are being ripped off.

Most parents would rather not take their children out of school, but for many families it can be the only way to afford a holiday, as travel companies ratchet up their prices to such an extent during peak times.

Many Mumsnet users are frustrated by a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to fining for term-time absences and would rather heads use their discretion more, especially when the absence is for occasions like family weddings or once-in-a-lifetime trips.

A fining system favours families who can afford to pay the fines
Kurt Janson, policy director, Tourism Alliance


Kurt Janson
Kurt Janson Policy director Tourism Alliance

There’s a perception that tourism businesses increase their prices in order to profit-gouge from families during the school holidays. However, many tourism businesses are only economically viable for four to six months of the year and price differences that occur are mainly a result of significant discounting by tourism businesses during off-peak periods.

It’s very hard to get people to travel outside peak periods and tourism businesses have to undertake significant price reductions in order to stimulate demand and gain the cashflow they need to retain staff and stay open.

Travel and holidays can well be important in a child’s development. The tourism industry would welcome a debate as to how to resolve the problem of enabling families to undertake more affordable holidays while not adversely impacting on their education – it’s a question of getting the right sort of balance. Spreading demand would be of considerable benefit to the tourism industry, as extending the tourism season would help with maintaining the viability of many businesses.

The problem with a fining system is that it favours those families that can pay the fines rather than those that are the poorest. In effect, it becomes a fee to take children out of school that only affluent families are able to pay.

We would welcome a discussion with government as to how to provide the best outcome for families and children.

This policy is having a serious effect on our business


Lynne Johnson
Lynne Johnson Cranmer Country Cottages

The government policy of fining parents for taking their children out of school during term time is having a serious effect on our business.

We have eight holiday cottages converted from a Victorian dairy farm in North Norfolk and this policy is forcing us to reevaluate our strategy. Our cottages were developed for, and are targeted at, young families.

Despite popular belief, we don’t ‘hike’ up our prices during school holidays and we don’t exploit families. We look carefully at the figures for the year and work out our prices so we can sustain our business during the rest of the year. We offer discounts on off-peak periods which often bring us down to break-even costs.

Previously our guests have been able to take advantage of these discounted rates by taking their children out of school for one day and taking a long weekend. Or if there was a school inset day they might have added a day to make up a mid-week break. It’s this business which is being damaged by the government policy.

The feedback we’re getting is that guests are looking for a two night break rather than the traditional three night break. The cost to us of a two night break is much the same as a three night break but we can’t expect guests to pay that extra cost. We have had to make the decision to offer a cheaper two night break with people leaving on Sunday afternoon rather than Monday morning, but it means restructuring the business – we don’t normally have staff on site on Sunday and it is important to us that we send our guests off with the same friendly service we offer on a Monday.

It has been suggested that the government staggers school holiday dates. This would benefit businesses and families as accommodation providers would be able to flatten their prices more if they felt that there was more than 20 weeks’ guaranteed business.

Originally published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 3

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