One of the recurring travel issues that never fail to excite media interest is pricing in the extreme peak of school holidays.
Journalists looking to either sell papers or attract clicks to their websites know that many people have very strong views in this area, particularly if they feel that they are being taken advantage of financially by the travel industry.
We have been active behind the scenes, setting out the commercial realities of pricing to MPs and other policy makers.
In this we have been very successful, as shown by the defeat last year of a motion in the House Of Commons which was asking for price controls to be introduced. In the past 12 months, the issue of school holiday pricing has really gained momentum and media interest following the former education secretary Michael Gove’s decision to remove the power from headteachers to grant up to 10 days discretionary leave a year.
While this decision has not created the extreme peak in demand, it has certainly increased pressure further on transport and accommodation availability. There have been calls from the Liberal Democrats and the Local Government Association to restore this discretionary power, while others have worried aloud of the risk of attracting the criticism that pupils’ education is being harmed simply in order to get a cheaper holiday.
There are clearly pros and cons for both sides of this argument, but it doesn’t really address the issue at the heart of this problem: supply and demand. For well over a decade now Abta has proposed that government, educational authorities and schools consider staggering the dates when holidays are taken to help alleviate the sharp peaks.
Recently it has been a welcome sight to see organisations such as Travelzoo very publicly backing our suggestion in the pages of the trade press.
This policy was arrived at after consultation with our members, and we have also more recently canvassed their views, which showed they remained supportive of this policy. We believe though that staggering must be coordinated in a structured fashion so that it can more effectively alleviate the extreme peaks and troughs in pricing, create a longer tourism season for domestic tourism businesses, as well as help the industry’s forward planning efforts.
Some might say that this is all very well in theory. But, would it work in practice? Well, fortunately there is an answer to that – it already does on the Continent. The Germans have for a number of years spread out their summer holidays, with each region taking it in turn to head off for a summer break. Not only does this help families, it also helps the travel industry with increased demand during the shoulder periods.
The historical reason why our schools’ summer holidays are crammed into six weeks in July and August, was so that children could play a part in bringing the harvest in. Not much of a holiday I think you’ll agree, but also clearly not such a pressing concern in the 21st century. Surely it’s time for a change.