As the spring-break season winds down and student and youth travelers prepare for summer, operators that cater to this market are reporting a slight recovery compared with the past few years.
StudentCity.com, which specializes in spring-break travel, is slightly up to flat in year-over-year bookings, an improvement of the slight year-over-year decline the company had been experiencing in recent years, according to Jason Chute, director of operations at StudentCity.com.
Chute said that Cancun came back strong this year, ousting the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana for the company’s top spring-break destination. The other top sellers were Panama City Beach, Fla.; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas.
To be clear, noted Chute, while “Cancun is holding up, Mexico business is not,” a fact he attributed to ongoing media attention on drug cartel-related violence south of the border. “Mazatlan has been literally nothing for three of four years,” Chute said. “Acapulco has been nothing for the last couple of years.”
As for average prices, revenue is up a little, Chute said. “I attribute most of that to the increase in airfare that’s happening.” He said that with students economizing, he’s seeing a shift from seven-night trips to five nights.
“Spring break has never really been about economic extravagance,” said Patrick Evans, marketing communications coordinator at STA Travel, a student travel specialist. “Students have always packed at least a few of their friends in a single hotel room and tried to figure out the cheapest way to get where they want to go.”
For that reason, said Evans, spring break travel has been relatively resilient throughout the recession — student travelers were already economizing while other market segments were learning how to.
“In terms of student travelers, I don’t think the financing mechanism for travel has really changed,” noted Evans. “Many students work hard over the summer and fall semester to save for spring break. Other students have financial support from their parents.”
He said that many of the top spring break destinations this year are in Mexico: Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarata. In the past few years, Miami and Las Vegas have become more popular as the “affordable, party-oriented destinations close to home.”
Other student and youth specialist are seeing students looking for more meaningful and experiential travel than the traditional party-on-the-beach getaway.
“They’re finding value in trips that offer culture, education and life experience. They recognize that it’s not only good for their resume but for their career,” said Michelle Murray, director of marketing and sales for Contiki, a tour operator that specializes in the 18-to-35 market.
“The recession eventually caught up with everyone,” added Murray. “It was a little slower to hit the youth market. But when unemployment hit young professionals, it caught up.”
Contiki does not specialize in spring break, and has never done much business in the fun-and-sun markets. But for the summer season, the company is about flat year-over-year, with destinations throughout South America, the U.S. and Asia “performing exceptionally.”
Europe, on the other hand, is down a bit for Contiki, due to media coverage of the crisis in Greece and high airfares, among other factors, according to Murray.
StudentUniverse.com, which does do a lot of spring break business, did see year-over-year growth in its spring break bookings, “but not just domestically,” said Amy Lidstone, head of business intelligence and marketing. “We see students traveling farther for spring break, not just to Europe, but to Asia, Thailand.”
Lidstone attributes that in part to a growth in international students studying in the U.S., many of whom return home during their spring and summer breaks. She said that this year growth in international bookings outpaced domestic bookings by 10%.
At Contiki, Murray noted that international students studying in the U.S. are contributing to bookings, as well. She noted that they are often booking domestic itineraries to explore more of the country during their studies.
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.