Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Spring break, an economic powerhouse

February 2, 2011

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Some students choose to go on adventure breaks like this group with Rustic Pathways.

If you’re sitting amid the “monster storm” reading this, it may seem surreal that we’re only a couple of weeks away from the start of the 2011 spring break season.

But it’s true.  According to this TripSmarter.com unofficial round-up of spring break dates by college or university, about half a million post-secondary students will be on break and presumably partying to one degree or another by the end of the month. Many more will take R & R in March. Economic impact studies are hard to come by but with a significant chunk of the nation’s 15 million-plus post-secondary students taking part in the annual ritual, it’s clearly an important spending driver (and spring break isn’t just for college students any more, more on that later.)

Just to give you an idea of the quirky stories out there: Cosmetic surgeons are getting in on the act, as this helpful press release notes, urging women to book breast augmentation to allow healing time before spring break. Meanwhile, dermatologists are warning of the danger of pre-vacation tanning salon visits. Does this mean an uptick in biz for spray tan companies, sellers of DIY tanning products and other beauty preparations?  What about hair extensions, hair removal, tattoos, permanent inked-on eyeliner and other beauty aids travelers think they need before hitting the beach or the slopes?  And what’s the male market for these traditionally female-oriented services?

More traditionally, look into business at travel and charter companies in your region, as well as adventure and service coordinators like RusticPathways. Don’t forget about ski resorts, dude ranches and academic or special-interest camps that may squeeze in extra annual business via spring break sessions.  You can approach these stories on the basis of students outbound from your area, especially if you’re in the northern geographical regions — which means that consumer-oriented pieces — like this ABC News report about the cost of spring break prep,  from doctor’s visits to manicures to Victorias’s Secret attire.  (Do campus area clinics and doctors really see a pre-vacation upswing in business? Great angle for a health care reporter.)

If, of course, your market is a traditional or emerging top spring break destination you already know the drill when it comes to the hospitality and tourism industries.  To distinguish your coverage a bit, take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes business activity – like spring break event promoters and  spring break marketing companies that work with hotels, resorts and even entire cities to lure the crowds.  (And what’s going on this year with cities which have tried to shun spring break business in favor of more sedate visitors; has toll of the Gulf oil spill and the economy caused them to reconsider?)

If any consumer goods makers – or lodging industry players – are headquartered near you, check into spring break sweepstakes they may be running –what’s the business rationale there?

And of course, look into spring break alternative/staycation promotions being used in your town to court students not traveling in their free time.  Who benefits on or near campus from school-bound students?

One last thought:  Increasingly, spring break is a key travel time for families of elementary, middle- and high-school students, too.  (Though some may find breaks curtailed this year due to snow days.)  So check into all of the marketing and business angles above vis a vis families too.   And look for unusual angles that may fuel spending:  One couple I know has an elementary-school aged daughter; because her parents have limited vacation, they can’t afford for both spouses to take time off every time the child has a lengthy break from school.  So this year, Dad is taking daughter on a winter-break trip while Mom is planning a mother-child getaway for the later Easter break.  It’s either that, or find and pay for child-care to span the breaks.  If you cover personal finance or consumer news, check into your region’s school calendars and find out what costs are generated for parents of young kids.

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