Trade bites back at Gove’s ‘tourism sharks’ price slur

Industry leaders have criticised former education secretary Michael Gove after he suggested “tourism sharks” should be regulated to outlaw price hikes during peak periods.

Operators said his call for pricing rules in the wake of a landmark ruling over term-time holidays was “unrealistic” and a “non-starter”.

Gove was responding to last week’s Supreme Court ruling against father Jon Platt, who has been contesting a fine imposed by Isle of Wight Council since 2015.

The ruling has made clear that parents can be fined if their children miss school without the agreement of the headteacher.

Some parents and politicians hit out at holiday firms, accusing them of “holding law-abiding parents to ransom”.

But Aito chairman Derek Moore said: “Gove’s suggestion to cap prices on holidays are a non-starter. They are unrealistic.

“It’s a comment made by someone who probably needs to learn a bit more about the travel industry before taking a swipe.

“Perhaps he should spend a bit of time with tour operators.

“It’s easy to put the word ‘rip‑off’ in front of something and make it a story, but consumers need to understand pricing is not that simple. It’s very much misunderstood.”

Moore compared supply and demand in the travel industry with florists charging more for Valentine’s Day and prices of popular items rising at Christmas.

An Abta spokesman said: “Rather than labelling the entire travel industry as ‘tourism sharks’, Michael Gove should recognise that as an MP and former education secretary, he has the opportunity to help families by supporting the introduction of regionally staggered school holiday dates.

“In low season, many hotels, airlines and other sections of the industry have to discount prices to encourage people to travel.”

Alan Bowen, legal adviser to the Association of Atol Companies, said operators’ typical profit margin is between 5% and 10%.

He said: “Operators make a profit during peak season but only cover costs during low season. Holidays are a lot more expensive in the summer because that’s when people want to go on holiday.”

Abta, Travelzoo and Inghams parent Hotelplan repeated calls for schools to stagger holidays.

But Bowen said such a move might increase prices over a longer period, rather than reduce prices.

And he believes fines of £60 per child will not deter many parents.

“Some parents will think it’s the last two weeks of term, their children won’t be learning a lot, and they won’t mind paying a £120 fine to save £500,” he added.

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