Is it fair for travel companies to charge more during school holidays? It is a debate which has come to the fore in the past few weeks, since Paul Cookson posted on Facebook that he was “sick to death” of being “ripped off” by holiday companies who raise and lower prices between school holidays and term time. His post, intended for a few friends, went viral and spawned over 169,000 signatures to an e-petition, created by Essex mother of two Donna Thresher, calling on the government to limit price increases companies can levy during the school holidays. It seems a sentiment which is felt by many parents up and down the country and has even been debated my MPs in parliament this week.
But is it fair to say higher prices during a period of higher demand are a “rip off”? For many holiday retailers and travel companies, the summer represents the single part of the year they break even, let alone make a profit. So what is the answer? Capped price rises, removing tax at peak times, staggering school holidays or allowing parents to take children on holiday in term time? And could this lead to higher prices through the year for people without children?
We have reached out across the debate to ask the question “Is it fair for travel companies to charge more during school holidays?”
Sarah Tucker, travel broadcaster and author of Have Teenager Will Travel.
“The travel industry cuts its profits very fine so they make money where they can. It is not a question of greed; it’s more a lack of proper management in some cases, in which the business is run like a cottage industry. Yes, the prices go up during holiday times, even doubling in some cases, but (and it is a huge but), the internet has opened up the market for customers to search out the bargains and negotiate. As for the government getting involved, it is a bit like the government getting involved in any matter – legislation will do nothing. The companies will have a way around it and it is up to people – that’s us – to take responsibility and not dump the buck on the politicians.
Hotels should make their direct line numbers more readily available online so that clients can call them direct and negotiate that way. If you don’t know how to use the internet, ask your teenagers – they do. They are the ones who will search out the best deals for you. Also, there is a vast chasm in what is value for money and what is cheap. Cheap isn’t necessarily value for money. Think about travel in a different way. My book A to Zen of Travel out this spring tells more about how to deal with exactly this issue and others.”
Find Sarah on her website www.SarahTucker.info
Rob, holiday-home owner with HomeAway.
“We only take foreign breaks during school holidays and we do UK breaks at other times using promotions in the UK. We shop around for the best deals using skyscanner and book fairly late by keeping an eye on the flight prices and then booking when we feel it is the right price for us. We also make a habit of booking our outbound flight separately to the inbound, often but not always using different carriers for the flights.
We are fortunate that as we are visiting our own property we are flexible on dates, but as owners who rent their apartment out we are also flexible on dates for guests to help them find the cheapest flights possible too. It is possible to get cheap flights in the school holidays: for example, we paid £130 each for a return to Tenerife in August 2013 and are paying £113 each for Easter 2014. We also charge a flat rate year-round so not all owners take advantage of families. The biggest handicap to people finding a cheap ‘do it yourself’ holiday is finding the best-priced flights, as owners like ourselves are not doing this for profit – just to cover our costs.”
Find Rob’s holiday home in Golf Del Sur, Tenerife
Kirsti Pelling, award-winning blogger, travelling with her husband and children.
“Holiday companies have always charged more for peak-time travel, which is why Stuart and I have always tried to travel off-peak with our children, or independently. In the past schools have been flexible about this but now the government is closing down the options for head teachers. And thus closing down the options for parents.
Travel can be good for children. It widens their horizons, deepens their cultural experiences and encourages empathy and understanding. It shows them there is a world beyond their immediate doorstep, and the possibilities for their own lives. Admittedly not all holidays are educational, but sometimes there can be other benefits to spending time together, like family bonding.
While the practices of operating according to supply and demand are well established for holiday companies, it doesn’t have to be like this. My sister-in-law runs Snails Pace Narrowboat Holidays. She charges the same price all year round, specifically so families aren’t penalised. But ironically she has occasionally had a complaint from someone wanting an off-peak holiday who feels they are being cheated out of a reduction.”
Follow Kirsti on her blog www.familyadventureproject.org
Susanna Scott, Founder of BritMums.com.
“It’s a complicated issue. There are families who have to try to coordinate school-term holidays (sometimes from multiple schools) and may have to take a special-needs child into consideration. Throw into that mix complicated parental working schedules, seasonal workers, and so on, and it can make your head dizzy! Market forces should shape pricing, not government. And perhaps school should be a bit more lenient with letting kids take a few days out without being penalised.”
Susanna Scott founded the BritMums social network in 2008 after a career in marketing. She wanted to create a space for parent bloggers to network, share ideas and opportunities. Follow her on @amodernmother.
Karen Mullins, HomeAway.co.uk Marketing Director.
“Whilst HomeAway does not condone taking children out of school in term time, we do see the value in adding to children’s education and experience outside the classroom. By travelling to lesser-known destinations steeped in history and culture, children can learn so much that can really help them with their studies, whether it’s languages, geography, history or other subjects, and ultimately it is the parents’ role to be primary educators in the early years.
Rather than always going for traditional fly-and-flop holidays, we suggest families could try something new in 2014 and plan trips that stimulate young minds. We believe that 2014 should be a year of adventure and exploration and spending time exploring ancient ruins, organising your own city tour, hunting down rare plant species or trying out a foreign language can all tie in with the national curriculum or even exceed it.”