Spring break plus price break equals more students traveling

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Lower airfares are encouraging spring breakers to disconnect in destinations near and far.

From college students flocking to Florida and Mexico for some fun and sun to families and young travelers heading abroad for a culture fix, spring-breakers this year are benefiting from attractive airfares and deals that are driving healthy growth in spring-break business.

"Some of the cheapest fares we are seeing to Europe for spring break are less than $400 roundtrip," said Danielle Dougan, public relations manager for youth travel specialist StudentUniverse.

StudentUniverse's 2017 spring break bookings are up 10% year over year, with the most popular destinations being Los Angeles, London, New York, Orlando, Miami, San Juan, Cancun, San Francisco, Madrid, Paris, Seattle, Barcelona, Tokyo and Shanghai.

The company reported that 26% of its spring break bookings have been to Europe this year, representing a 7% increase compared with 2016. At the same time, the average price of Europe spring break trips is down 20% compared with last year.

StudentUniverse said it noticed several other trends in its spring break bookings. For one, this year is the first time in seven years that New York is not the tour operator's top spring break destination.

Puerto Rico appears to be on the rise. San Juan ranked 18th last year among its spring break destinations but rose to No. 6 this year.

In an analysis of spring break data for 2017, Expedia, too, found that airfares for spring break this year were lower than last year.

During the fourth quarter of 2016, average ticket prices were down roughly 15% year over year for certain flights to major European cities during the 2017 spring break period, and average ticket prices for Mexico were down around 5% year over year, Expedia reported.

The OTA's top spring break destinations this year are Cancun, Orlando, Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, London, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Phoenix and Paris.

Mexico is 'a must'

For student travelers taking a break from college courses, heading south of the border to Mexico remains one of the most popular spring break pilgrimages.

"The 2016 booking period for 2017 spring break was a banner [period] for us," said Brandon Amelong, land product manager for the U.S. division of youth travel agency STA Travel.

Cancun remains one of the top spring break destinations for college students.
Cancun remains one of the top spring break destinations for college students.

Amelong said that for first-time college spring-breakers, "Cancun is a must. It is seen as a rite of passage and the main spot on everyone's list for spring break." But, he added, it isn't all about nonstop partying. "Internal research and surveys have shown that customers want a 'break from the booze.' Thus, we introduced our a la carte daytrip options that allowed customers to experience Isla Mujeres, Tulum and various other snorkeling and cultural adventures."

STA Travel this year doubled its passenger numbers to Cancun and has also seen growth in bookings to Panama City, Fla.; South Padre Island, Texas; Punta Cana; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Amelong said the company has also enjoyed some growth in nontraditional spring break destinations, including Australia, Fiji and Thailand.

Jeffrey Jacobsen, president of student travel packager STS Vacations, said that Cancun continues to be the most popular spring break destination.

"Cancun's combination of hotels that embrace college students on spring break, great weather and fun nightlife are the perfect match for spring break," he said. "Punta Cana continues to be popular. There is demand for Cabo, [but] unfortunately the hotels [there] are not receptive to college spring break groups."

Stateside, Jacobsen said, a crackdown on drinking on the beach, along with some other incidents, "really pushed Panama City out of the limelight. In the U.S., Panama City is no longer considered a popular destination, and South Padre is reaping the benefits."

Jacobsen said that lower airfares definitely have made an impact on spring break bookings.

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