From the Zika virus to a shaky stock market, from low gas
prices to a strong U.S. dollar, a number of factors that have come into play at
the start of 2016 are throwing traditional spring break travel patterns for a
Some spring breakers are going all out with far-flung
trips, while others are simply opting for last-minute DIY staycations, taking
advantage of low gas prices and hitting the road. Some are heading to Mexico,
Florida or the Caribbean just as in years past, while others are steering clear
of traditional fun-and-sun destinations.
This year, Julia Douglas of Chicago-based Jet Set World
Travel reported that her office is seeing a greater variety in spring break
destinations than in years past. Some of her agency’s top destinations include
Aspen, Colo., Florida, California, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong,
Japan, Anguilla, Jamaica and Mexico. She said there has also been a strong
emphasis on ski trips, with some spring breakers taking advantage of Canada’s
weak dollar relative to U.S. currency to head north for deep snow.
But Douglas also pointed to a couple factors that have
made spring break a bit of a challenge this year.
First, she said that families whose net worth is tied to
securities have been holding back a bit as they monitor the market’s recent
downturn. Another challenge has been a scattered spring break calendar, with schools
throughout the country closed at different times throughout February, March and
“The calendars aren’t really lining up this year,”
Douglas said. “One of our families who has four kids, one parent is going with
two kids and the other is going with the other two.”
She said these factors placed a higher demand for quick
getaways during Presidents Day weekend, when kids and parents were all
guaranteed time off during the same time frame.
“It also seems to work out better for families fearing
volatility to be away for a shorter period of time,” she said.
Then there’s Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has hit
countries across Central and South America and the Caribbean as well as Mexico.
Kim Launer, a travel consultant at Chicago-based Royal
Travel & Tours, said she had about 17 cancellations due to Zika concerns
and felt that spring break travel was down overall this year compared with last
But Launer said people are still feeling the itch to go
somewhere over the break, especially the college set. Mexico remains a top
spring break destination, which was true not only for Launer but seemingly
across the board.
Two of STA Travel’s three main spring break destinations
so far this year have been in Mexico, according to Brandon Amelong, senior manager for product and partner
marketing at the agency, which specializes in student travel. STA’s main spring
break destinations this year are Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Cancun; and
Panama City Beach, Fla. Bookings to those three destinations together have
increased by around 13% this year compared with 2015.
However, STA has noticed a reduction of interest in and
travel to South America, with passenger volume down around 20% to that region,
which Amelong said could possibly be attributed to Zika.
John Caldwell, the president of MLT Vacations, said that
he, too, was seeing bookings for spring break travel to Mexico, the Caribbean
and Florida leading the way.
But Caldwell and others have noticed another interesting
trend in this year’s bookings: a subtle shift away from the traditional resort
getaways to slightly more up-and-coming resort areas within popular spring
Panama City Beach, Fla., remains one of the most popular destinations for college students on spring break.
“We have seen some increased demand this year in less
traditional spring break markets,” Caldwell said. In Mexico, he said, “Puerto
Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit have seen demand increase significantly. In the
Caribbean, Aruba has seen a nice spike in bookings and Nassau/Paradise Island
and Grand Cayman are both outpacing traditional spring break destinations like
Punta Cana and Jamaica.”
A recent Orbitz.com survey of 804 respondents found
increased interest in less traditional spring break destinations this year,
such as Panama City, Panama; Mexico’s Riviera Maya; Dublin; Toronto; Mesa,
Ariz.; and Carlsbad, Calif.
Student travel specialist StudentUniverse said its 2016
spring break bookings are up 37% compared with 2015.
But StudentUniverse is seeing some relatively different
trends for spring break among students than others have reported. For example,
the company’s top spring break destination for the past several years now,
including 2016, has been New York. This year, other top locales are London, Los
Angeles, Orlando, Dublin and Miami, with just 36% of the company’s spring break
bookings for domestic locations.
Five international cities made the top 20 in
StudentUniverse’s spring break destinations for the first time in 2016: Dublin
(No. 5), Barcelona (No. 9), Rome (No. 12), Madrid (No. 15) and Tokyo (No. 16).
“A lot of students are looking to spend their spring
break having experiences that they can add to their resume and talk about, not
just relaxing on a beach,” said Danielle Dougan, public relations manager
for StudentUniverse. She said that only 40% of domestic spring breakers and 21%
of international spring breakers are going to the beach or warmer climes this
Brittney Magner, a luxury and family travel consultant
and colleague of Kim Launer at Royal Travel & Tours, said she was able to
get most of her spring break travel on the books in the fall before the current
economic uncertainty and news of the Zika virus hit. Her spring break bookings
doubled this year, with most families heading to Mexico, the Caribbean, the
lower 48 states and some to Europe.
She said families that canceled due to Zika
concerns ended up rebooking in Arizona, Florida or California.
“Being a luxury family travel specialist, spring break
has always been extremely important, as all of my clients are looking for that
special one-week break with their children,” Magner said. “And this was a very
busy spring break.”