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Spring break is normally a time for action-packed getaways for families and college students. The pandemic, of course, has changed how most travelers view the idea of vacationing — and travel advisors, destinations and suppliers are adjusting to the new normal.
Relative to last year, spring break 2021 is generating more sales, according to Nick Hammond, vice president of group travel at Exquisite Travel Group, a member of Ensemble Travel Group in Roseville, Calif. “I would say [it’s] slightly better than last year as there was no travel at all for spring break 2020,” he said. “We are seeing some uptick in bookings with families who just need to get away.”
“Most of the bookings are coming from families with high school and college-age children,” Hammond added. “I have some groups with younger children planning on traveling, but a lot of them had to reconsider [because of] the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rules that require a negative test to return to the U.S.”
Aanchal Gandhi, vice president of Ovation Travel Group in Los Angeles, said that families with young children, young couples and high school graduates are among those booking spring break vacations, although in limited numbers.
We are starting to receive inquiries and bookings for small getaways from vaccinated clients.
“Spring break 2021 is shaping up to be similar to that of 2020, as many families are holding off booking due to the constant changes in travel restrictions,” she said. “We are starting to receive inquiries and bookings for small getaways from vaccinated clients.”
The demographics of spring break travel may be shifting. The New York Times, for example, predicted that senior citizens may be the most likely to travel for spring break, citing a recent survey by Harvest Hosts, an R.V. membership platform, that found seniors’ priority access to vaccines is making that group more confident about traveling — and more likely to book than some other groups.
The fact that several colleges and universities have shortened or cancelled spring break, meanwhile, may result in fewer young adults going away this season.
Top Spring Break Destinations for 2021The complications and limitations of international travel have certainly affected traveler choices this year.
“A lot of our clients have pivoted to trips in Florida and other domestic warmer climates,” Hammond said. “Mexico is still getting some attention but has been hurt by the new rules.”
Nevertheless, Mexico is still figuring heavily in some travel plans. A recent report from Expedia, for example, showed that the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun and Isla Mujeres were the most-searched-for destinations for spring travel.
RELATED: How to Get a COVID-19 Test in Mexico“With COVID-19 fatigue, clients are also seeking destinations that have adapted to the pandemic protocols,” Gandhi said. “For example, hotels in Mexico are now offering in-room COVID-19 testing that is priced into the room rate. This is convenient for clients who are required to obtain one prior to commencing their travels. Additionally, clients are looking for destinations in which local businesses have managed to adapt to pandemic protocols. Thus, clients feel more relaxed in engaging in day-to-day activities while on vacation.”
To that end, several destinations that are traditionally popular with college-age spring break travelers have instituted practices to increase safety and limit the possibility of “super spreader” events. In Texas, South Padre Island has suspended special event beach permits, while in Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber has proposed a 2 a.m. curfew for alcohol sales (rather than the usual 5 a.m.).
Other destinations, meanwhile, are aiming to lure families. The new Radisson Blu Resort & Residence Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, is touting its family-friendly amenities as well as pandemic safety protocols and the free health insurance that the country’s government is providing to international travelers through March 31. In addition, the Dominican Republic now offers free COVID-19 antigen testing for all international visitors staying at hotels.
What Spring Breakers WantMost travelers crave a different kind of escape when they think about spring break this year, according to Hammond.
“Guests are looking for more relaxation after a tough 2020,” he explained. “They are very interested in how resorts are implementing COVID-19 protocols and how they will be protected.”
Those who do decide to travel for spring break will find a very different experience, compared to the pre-pandemic days. Face masks, social distancing and capacity limitations will likely play a part in any getaway, regardless of the destination. Newfound travel flexibility, the result of remote working and studying, may actually help to space out travelers and prevent crowds.
Selling spring break this year requires a different approach, says Hammond.
“This year, I have been more of an educator than in years past,” he said. “With the decision to travel during a pandemic being a very personal one, my No. 1 job has been to educate clients so they can make their own informed decision about traveling — and if guests do choose to travel internationally, I recommend they stick to a brand that is making testing and possible quarantining as easy as possible for them.”