Spring break travel may be down in 2021, but that doesn't mean everyone is sitting this one out.
A survey from sister publication TravelAge West, which went out to more than 300 advisors, found that 55% of respondents have clients traveling this spring, with 23% saying they have seen a higher-than-expected increase in spring break inquiries. Still, 62% of respondents reported that bookings for spring break are lower than they were a year ago.
International travel made up less than 10% of current business, with 47% of advisors reported that Mexico continues to be the most popular travel destination during this time, with the usual pacesetters -- Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta -- leading the way.
Allianz Partners also found that a number of Americans are planning to hit the road for this year's spring break. And, not surprisingly, the most popular destinations are the ones that are either close to home or international destinations that are making it relatively easy for people to come visit.
According to the Allianz Top 10 Spring Break Destinations review, Americans are looking to travel to international destinations like Mexico's beaches and Montego Bay, Jamaica, as well as domestic vacations like Florida, where Miami, in particular, is proving to be one of the most popular (and problematic, as recent news reports have made clear).
Saying that Miami is experiencing a surge in arrivals throughout March is an understatement, as anyone who has watched the news the past several weeks will attest to. South Beach in Miami Beach "descended into chaos," as the New York Times described the scene, with police struggling to control hordes of partiers -- many maskless -- on the city's streets. On March 20, Miami Beach declared a state of emergency due to the crisis and one day later implemented a curfew that will remain in place until at least April 12. The curfew is in place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in what the city is calling the High Impact Zone, an area bounded by Fifth Street, 16th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Ocean Drive. Restaurants are permitted to operate until midnight for delivery only.
Among the other measures the curfew puts in place:
• Eastbound lanes on the Venetian Causeway (inbound to Miami Beach) are closed from 9 p.m. through 6 a.m., except to city residents.
• Each night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m, Ocean Drive is closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Exceptions are residents requiring access to or from their homes, guests of hotels and employees of business establishments.
• From 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night, all sidewalk cafe operations are suspended in the High Impact Zone.
The travel restrictions do not seem to be deterring all travelers. In fact, some travel advisors are noticing an increase in inquiries about Florida, and about Miami specifically.
"Just this week alone, by Wednesday, we had received five new booking requests," said Markgetta Jackson Langford, Atlanta South chapter director for the agency group CCRA International. The inquiries, however, are for the new Airbnb that the company has opened in Miami.
"What we have found is that clients want to go someplace outside of their home area but don't want the hassle of airport protocols and would rather drive within their four-to-six-hour home radius," she said. "The Airbnb House in Miami has been booked solid every day, aside from our Covid cleaning days."
She added that for those who can't find availability at the Airbnb house, the agency helps them find availability at preferred hotels in Miami. Jackson Langford said she also has booked clients in several other Florida destinations, including Orlando and on the Panhandle, in places like Navarre Beach, Panama City and Destin.
Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz., said bookings were down significantly during that city's spring break time in March. However, the city has recently opened up vaccinations for everyone older than 16, so the company is reporting an increase in inquiries for April and May. Florida is one of the top destinations, Harrison reports.
"I am working on a few different Florida bookings for Miami, Key West and the Jacksonville area," said Harrison. "The Miami booking is centered around a lot of art, food, watersports and fun in the sun. The clients don't have passports and just want to get away and get some sun."
Her clients traveling to Key West pivoted from the Caribbean because they were discouraged by the current testing requirements.
Mexico and the Caribbean
South of the border, the situation is much different than Miami. Destinations are expecting smaller crowds than descended on them during the holiday season, when the media was quick to point out that many American travelers managed to skirt the health and safety protocols that are in place. With lessons presumably learned from that experience, officials insist that local authorities and travel partners will exercise vigilance to keep gatherings at a minimum this spring.
Cancun, like many destinations in Mexico, has implemented an Epidemiological Traffic Light Strategy, which is updated on a weekly basis depending on the number of daily Covid-19 cases, the average of new cases and the hospital availability. The situation is assessed every Thursday, with the traffic light color going into effect the following Monday.
As of press time, Cancun -- in fact, all of the Mexican Caribbean -- is in the yellow light phase, which means that activities, hotels, restaurants, attractions, golf courses and other tourist sites can operate at 60% capacity. Still, spring break will look slightly different in Cancun this year.
"Parties are not allowed; however small, outdoor gatherings and weddings are," said Dario Flota, director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board. "The number of people allowed to be inside an eclipsed space depends on the capacity of the venue. And even though certain nightclubs and bars are not open yet, there are different night entertainment options offered by the hotels, such as shows, in addition to other activities like Xoximilco and Cirque du Soleil."
As evidenced from New Year's Eve parties in destinations across Mexico, there were many who tried to navigate their way around the protocols in order to gather in groups and throw parties. The government is calling for a higher level of vigilance and greater precautions among authorities and travel partners in order to ensure the correct implementation of protocols.
Los Cabos, which trails only Cancun in popularity with spring break travelers this year, the destination was also classified as yellow within Baja California Sur's color-coded system. Los Cabos is now allowed to operate at a 50% maximum capacity across all recreational and social activities, including beaches, restaurants and tour operators. Still, nightlife venues remain closed.
The Los Cabos Tourism Board has partnered with Sharecare and Forbes Travel Guide to launch an initiative to help properties become Sharecare Verified. Hotels earn the designation by verifying their health protocols on an ongoing basis across more than 360 standards to minimize risk and impact of public health. Some of these include cleaning products and procedures, ventilation, physical distancing, the guest experience and health safety communication with guests and employees.
To date more than 500 hotels, resorts and venues across 50 countries have received the verification, but only Los Cabos has achieved the verification as a destination.
A beach on the edge of the Cinco de Diciembre neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta, pre-pandemic. Beaches in PV are closing on 5 p.m. under current guidelines, though those are about to expire. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
In Puerto Vallarta, Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Airport was projecting more than 1,400 flight arrivals from the U.S. and Canada for March, based on numbers from early in the month. Air connectivity between Mexico and the U.S. continues to improve, with a 19% increase in the number of arrivals and departures in February. However, Puerto Vallarta is taking more cautious measures throughout the month of March into April to help control crowds.
The government of the state of Jalisco -- home to PV -- put strict protocols in place last month, but they were slated to expire at the end of day on Easter, April 4.
Under the guidelines, beaches in Puerto Vallarta will be open, but only from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. Restaurants and bars will close at 11 p.m. Hotels will continue to operate at 66%, and religious celebrations will be restricted. Nightlife will also be restricted, with a maximum capacity of up to 50%.
Montego Bay in Jamaica also ranks within the top five destinations for 2021 spring break travel, according to the Allianz survey.
While Jamaica is not as relaxed as Mexico in terms of entry requirements, the island is welcoming tourists back over the spring break travel season. Protocols were put in place on Nov. 17 and will continue through April 15.
All travelers age 12 and up are required to show a negative Covid-19 PCR or antigen test taken within three days of the travel date. Travelers must also have an approved Travel Authorization form prior to boarding a flight. These forms must be submitted within seven days of the intended travel week.
Jamaica has created several measures to help ensure safety. The country has created what it calls Resilient Corridors to encourage safe tourism. These corridors have been inspected and are compliant with set standards of training and safety. The corridors occupy two parts of the island: A northern segment from Negril to Port Antonio and a southern route from Milk River to Negril.