'Irresponsible' Center Parcs advert taken off air

Center Parcs resort in Elveden Forest, Suffolk Image copyright Center Parcs
Image caption The Center Parcs resort in Elveden Forest, Suffolk

A television advert for Center Parcs holiday resorts has been banned for "irresponsibly" encouraging parents to take their children out of school.

Promoting midweek breaks for £279, the advert showed parents and school-aged children, with small print stating that the offer "excludes school holidays".

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decided to ban it following two complaints from viewers.

A Centre Parcs spokesman said the ruling was "extremely harsh".

The government introduced tougher regulations in September to crack down on term-time absence for holidays.

Parents in England and Wales have a legal responsibility to ensure their child attends school, unless they have opted to home educate them.

In March, a study by BBC One's Breakfast programme suggested the number of fines issued to parents by local authorities had increased by more than 70%.

Clearcast, the advertising clearance service which approved the advert, said the issue of holidaying during term time was the responsibility of parents.

But the ASA ruled that the Center Parcs advert had crossed a line by featuring children enjoying various activities while promoting a holiday that was only available when they should be at school.

'Irresponsibly encouraged'

It said: "We considered the emphasis of the ad was on a family break and that the overall impression was that families could take advantage of the advertised offer, which was not available at weekends or during school holidays.

"We also noted the final on-screen text stated 'Your family. Your time', which we considered was likely to be an encouragement for parents to take up the offer.

"Because the ad had focused on a family break to promote an offer which was available only during term time, we concluded it irresponsibly encouraged parents to take their children out of school."

Image caption Last September the government introduced tougher regulations on term-time absence for holidays

'Duping the public'

Center Parcs, which has five resorts in the UK, had an advert for a £249 four-night break banned in 2012 by the ASA for similar reasons.

One of the viewers to object to the latest promotion was Theresa Greenwood, a mother-of-four from Manchester.

She decided to contact the ASA after discussing the Center Parcs advert with a Facebook group called "Holiday Price Increase", which has 17,000 members.

"They are duping the public," Greenwood told BBC News. "The ad clearly depicts school-aged children so after discussing with that group I said I would put a formal complaint in on everyone's behalf.

"The prices during the school holidays are so much higher that we feel we are funding holidays for people with no children as well as massive profits for Center Parcs.

"I enjoy Center Parcs but I really can't envisage taking them any more at those prices. Maybe they need to start listening to consumers a little bit more."

'Extremely harsh'

Center Parcs said it was up to parents to exercise judgement regarding their children.

A spokesman said: "Center Parcs has always adhered to the ASA processes and guidelines and the approach with this particular TV commercial was no different.

"Our ad shows a number of families, with children of varying ages, enjoying some of the activities that are available at Center Parcs.

"We do not believe the ad encourages parents to take their children out of school and it is very clear that the price displayed excludes school holidays. This approach was taken based on the advice we were given by the ASA themselves.

"In our opinion, this ASA ruling represents a new interpretation of the guidelines.

"However, whilst we believe this ruling to be extremely harsh, we do of course take on board the ASA's comments and will continue to work within their guidelines."

More on this story