WASHINGTON -- Every year, for the past 15 years, it was practically
a guaranteed sale. The same local high school would go to Post
Haste Travel in Hollywood, Fla., and book 200 or so of its students
on a spring break tour of Washington.
However, this year was the exception.
The high school "said no to Washington," said Joyce Klein,
senior consultant for Post Haste, who usually made the booking.
Klein said the students wanted to visit Washington, but their
parents and the school decided against it.
"I ended up sending 50 of them to the Grand Canyon," Klein said,
and the rest stayed home.
Multiply the Hollywood high school by hundreds more and the
situation facing Washington's travel promoters becomes clear:
Although most of the tourism industry here has recovered from the
effects of Sept. 11, the student travel market continues to
The Washington D.C. Convention and Visitors Corp. does not have
firm student travel figures, but tourism officials as well as Mayor
Anthony Williams have commented at press events that student tours
-- which along with family travel accounts for 50% of Washington's
spring and summer visitor market -- are down.
The American Bus Association estimates there are about 75 fewer
motorcoaches touring Washington daily.
ABA data show the average coach trip, lasting 1.3 days,
represents $9,990 in revenue for the city.
Using that calculation as a benchmark, the ABA said, Washington
lost about $11 million during its popular, two-week Cherry Blossom
Festival in April.
"Right now, I can identify a half-dozen companies that have gone
out of business, some of them small and some of them large," ABA
president Peter Pantuso said. "They just couldn't hold on. They
just couldn't make it. We are at a point where companies are just
holding on. [Owners] are putting up more of their own personal
money to keep the business going."
Washington's woes stem from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
which took place at just the time when most schools typically would
book their spring and summer jaunts, according to operators
specializing in the market.
"After Sept. 11, many, many school boards put a prohibition on
travel," explained Ed Dresel, president of Southington, Conn.-based
Destinations Unlimited, a specialist in school group travel.
So far, he has sent only one group of 120 students to Washington
this spring. He normally would send 2,000 students.
"The Northeast and any company dependent on travel to the
Northeast, whether it is New York, Washington or Boston, are, by
far, having the most difficult time," said Kathy LeTarte, chairman
of the National Tour Association.
LeTarte also is owner and president of Jackson, Mich.-based New
Horizons Tour and Travel, which packages tours for student
LeTarte said student travel is a significant market for tour
More than 50% of NTA members sell customized tours to the
student travel market. Some tours sell for as low as $60, others
for as high as $3,000 per person, depending on destination and
New Horizons "would normally be doing about 40 or 45 groups [to
Washington]," LeTarte said. Only 14 traveled this spring.
Similarly, Judd Gerber, vice president of Gerber Tours, a
30-year-old Westbury, N.Y.-based operator that specializes in
student tour packages, said his school group business is off by
"Our two biggest destinations are Washington and New York. New
York is not as bad off," partly because, ironically, the remains of
the World Trade Center have become an attraction, Gerber said.
"But Washington is perceived to be a target," Gerber said.
"There [still] seems to be a perceived threat."
That perception, Gerber said, was further underscored by the
anthrax scare that affected the nation's capital last fall.
Meanwhile, tighter security at government buildings and
attractions has become the norm in Washington.
"They have implemented so many ticketing restrictions and
policies to everything from the Capitol to the White House to the
Bureau of Engraving and Printing to the Washington Monument, that
it is making things very difficult for tour operators that run
trips to D.C.," Gerber said. "It is really difficult."
The restrictions notwithstanding, LeTarte said the soft student
tour market is mirroring the overall travel market.
"People in general have concerns [about travel], and they are
exemplified in a lot of different ways," LeTarte said. "So when we
talk about student travel, the response has been as wide and varied
as the general public's."
But there are signs that the student market will rebound
eventually, Dresel said.
"Fall 2002 compared with fall 2001, when absolutely nothing
went, looks like it will be up to our normal numbers," said Dresel.
"So, that's great. [The students] are coming back."
But Post Haste's Klein has doubts about the fall and next
spring. "I really don't know what the situation is going to be,"