Spring Break: How It Began and Where Travelers Are Headed This Yearby David Cogswell
We are now smack dab in the middle of the Spring Break period, and according to an executive at HotelBeds.com, it’s one of the busiest periods of the year for travel.
“Every year, approximately 1.5 million students engage in Spring Break travel,” said Lauren Volcheff Atlass, Americas regional director for wholesale sales for Hotelbeds. “If you add the other individuals who also engage in Spring Break, which is primarily mostly travelers under the age of 35, the number can easily go into the two million.”
STA Travel, the heavyweight champ of student travel, places Spring Break on the calendar between late-February and mid-April, varying from school to school depending on when they set their break periods. But it’s not just about students.
What, when and how much
“Not only students vacation during spring break,” said Atlass. “But they are truly the ones that add the greatest number of bookings during this period. We found that over 48 percent of hotel bookings made on our platform during this season were made for 3-4-star hotels and over 34 percent of bookings were made for hotels with a 2-3-star rating – both combined account for about 82 percent of all bookings during the month of March.
Atlass said that 17 percent of travelers booked hotels with higher than a 4-star rating. “Even though it wasn’t the biggest segment,” she said, “it is still a pretty significant amount of bookings for luxury travel during the month. The lowest percentage of bookings went to hotels with less than a 2-star point rating, which accounted for less than 1 percent of the bookings.”
Though luxury hotels accounted for only a smaller proportion of bookings, they account for a higher percentage of revenue. Spring Break travel contributes approximately a billion dollars to travel by Americans every year, according to Atlass.
The 1983 movie “Spring Break” helped to solidify the legend of Spring Break, and its portrayal rings true, to a degree. “Most Spring Breakers do look for destinations close to the beach,” said Atlass, “but that’s not the case for everyone. There’s a large percentage of travelers going into big cities or destinations close to the mountains. Others decide to travel internationally.
“Those not booking the typical beach resorts often tend to use a tour operator, particularly if they are going internationally, as they value the operator’s ability to put together a whole package.”
The “Spring Break” movie was set in Fort Lauderdale, and helped to establish the beach town in the public mind as the mecca of Spring Break pilgrimages. But outside of the movies, Fort Lauderdale is only one of the most popular spots for spring break, and it is not even the most popular, according to Atlass.
“While Fort Lauderdale is still a highly demanded destination for Spring Breakers during the season,” said Atlass, “it isn’t the most booked destination. But it still contributes significantly to the travel space during this high-booking season. It almost makes it into our top 10 for the year, taking the 12th place with only a tiny difference from the number ten position.”
Spring Break bookings are typically short. “Most people book two or three nights,” said Atlass. “The vacation period is typically short, usually falling mostly during a weekend or a long weekend.”
Most spring breakers travel in small groups of friends, Atlass said. But families and couples also travel together during spring break.
Spring break travel is not usually characterized by last-minute bookings because students know far in advance when their vacations will be scheduled, and they can save money by booking ahead of time.
“They tend to be able to book well in advance,” said Atlass. “Nonetheless, travelers do still book last-minute accommodation and flights. Those who book last-minute, tend to have to pay higher prices, as this is a popular travel season.”
Spending for spring break travel is on the low end of the scale of travel spending, but it is still significant.
“The average amount for a Millennial to spend on a Spring Break trip, according to some sources, doesn’t surpass $2,000,” said Atlass, “taking into account flight, accommodation, and spending while in the destination.”
Where it all began
Spring Break has a longer tradition than you might suspect. The institution of Spring Break travel actually pre-dates the movie by half a century.
“Spring Break started back in the early 1930s,” said Atlass, “when the Colgate College spring team began to travel to Fort Lauderdale for training. Soon after, swimmers from all over the country started attending competitions all over Florida. By the 1950s, college students everywhere started heading south to spend the break close to the beach.”
The movie that really put Spring Break on the map of popular culture was released in 1960. “Spring Break became very popular after the release of ‘Where the Boys Are’, a hit book that was later transformed into a film sometime around the 1960s – the movie was even a bigger hit and, after its release, thousands of students visited Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break and it became the capitol of Spring Break for years to come.”
A remake of “Where the Boys Are” was released in 1984, one year after the film “Spring Break.” Cumulatively these films have helped to solidify an American tradition. “This season is celebrated by Americans all over,” said Atlass. “Other nationalities are invited to participate in the festivities and attend the parties, but it is an American tradition nonetheless.”
CheapOair’s destination ranking
The booking site, CheapOair, examined its booking statistics for 18- to 25-year-olds and found that they are beginning to seek broader horizons with Spring Break travel. The majority are still going to beach destinations such as Florida and Mexico, but an increasing number are heading to Europe for Spring Break.
CheapOair lists the following as its most popular domestic Spring Break destinations for 2019: Orlando, Florida; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Tampa, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Fort Myers, Florida; and Phoenix, Arizona.
Top international Spring Break destinations are: Cancun, Mexico; London, England; Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Barcelona, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Zagreb, Croatia; Mexico City, Mexico; and Madrid, Spain.