Government should spread school holiday dates out by region to bring travel costs down in peak period, say tour operators


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The Independent Online

The Government should vary school summer holiday dates region by region so families can avoid paying peak prices for their breaks, tour operators said yesterday.

The Association of Independent Tour Operators, which represents about 120 travel companies, said the holiday season should be spread over a longer period of time - such as from June to September.

A longer holiday period would avoid tour operators having to make their profits from just a six-week window at the height of summer, they argued.

Initial reaction from the Department for Education said it was already possible to do this, as its flagship free schools and academies already had the freedom to set their own holiday dates.

However, spreading the holidays out over a three-month period could run into trouble with exam boards, as GCSEs and A-levels do not finish until well into June.

AITO said that if the Government were to vary the holiday break from region to region it “would allow holiday companies to reduce peak season prices”.

“It would also offer huge economic benefits to some of the key holiday destinations (many of which are suffering huge unemployment and other financial problems) by lengthening their seasons,” said Derek Moore, chairman of AITO.

“So it seems fairly straightforward, Mr Cameron, please settle it once and for all. Holiday dates spread over a longer period work well elsewhere in Europe. Instigate a similar system in the UK and parents - and holiday companies - will be happy.”

AITO came out strongly against the idea of capping the price of holidays during the school holidays, arguing that would just make the price of holidays year-round more expensive.

“A hotel, villa, apartment or campsite has six weeks only in the summer in which largely to cover its costs for the year - and that might equate to just three family holidays lasting two weeks each,” it added.

It said it was a simple matter of supply and demand which also applied to roses on St Valentine’s Day, British asparagus during its short season and strawberries during Wimbledon.

AITO backed the idea of parents being allowed to take their children out of school during term time to avoid paying peak fares, arguing this was already possible if the pupil’s headteacher agreed.

In fact, the law has been tightened and there is no longer a window which used to allow parents to take children out of school for up to 10 days a year with the head’s person. Now leave is only granted in exceptional circumstances.

AITO’s comments as it emerged that a petition calling for an to overcharging by travel companies could get an airing in the House of Commons.

The online petition created just over 10 months ago has already had more than 136,000 signatures from parents angry about price hikes for going away during the summer holidays.

Government e-petitions need 100,000 signatures before they will be considered for a debate in the Commons by a committee of backbench MPs.

Earlier this month a couple, Stewart and Natasha Sutherland, were fined almost £1,000 for taking their three children out on school on a holiday to Greece in term time. They argued they had booked their holiday before the change in the law.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We are giving all schools the freedom to set their own term dates.  Academies and free schools already have this freedom.

“For instance, David Young Community Academy in Leeds operates a seven-term year starting in June. This means parents and teachers can benefit from cheaper holidays at the end of September.

“We want schools to consider changes to term dates that will work out for their pupils and their families.”