As many warm-weather destinations continue to recover from last year’s historic hurricane season, some families getting out of town for Spring Break are going to Plan B.
“Hurricane Katrina has impacted many groups traveling from Mississippi and Louisiana,” said Dobson Bowden of TREK Travel Programs in Jackson. “We are all, tour operators and suppliers, working as best we can to assist these groups in any way possible to continue to provide these travel opportunities.”
So what’s Plan B?
Vickie Greenlee, president of For Travelers Only, and also a national director for the American Society of Travel Agents, said she’s sending a lot of folks to the Turks and Caicos Islands, located in the Caribbean, southeast of The Bahamas and north of Haiti.
“It’s really becoming a hot destination,” said Greenlee. “Three or four gorgeous new resorts have opened there, including Grace Bay Club, which has beautiful children-friendly villas. What makes them so attractive is that Delta flies directly there from Atlanta and it makes travel so easy.”
Bill Bryan, owner of World Travel Consultants, said more people are traveling overseas.
“I’ve done a lot more Europe,” he said. “I’ve got people going to Israel, Egypt, Spain, Germany and London,” he noted.
The higher cost of tickets to overseas destinations hasn’t deterred travelers, said Bryan.
“The airfares to Europe are atrocious and all the flights are just about full,” he said. “In a pure economic sense, they’re not that expensive if everybody’s paying that much for them.”
Bowdon, whose company deals primarily with student groups, said their travel destinations haven’t changed this spring. The top choices still include Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Orlando.
“Everyone knows the historical significance of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to see the White House, the U.S. Capitol Building and other historically significant sites. New York is always a blast with the Broadway shows and magnificent museums. Many people don’t realize what a wonderful city Chicago is. It has the architecture to astound anyone and the museums to fulfill that craving to enjoy art and science and industry, as well as great food. Certainly, Orlando is on the list for Disney World.”
Jo Anne Caven, president of Bonner Travel, now part of Bryan Bonner MTS Travels, said some families are opting for Universal Studios instead of Disney World. “They’ve been to Disney a number of times, and now they’re going somewhere different,” she said.
Caven also has clients traveling to Costa Rica, Napa Valley, Jamaica, on golfing trips to Palm Springs, Calif., and Marsh Harbor in The Bahamas,” she said.
So what’s not hot in travel trends this spring?
“Not so many families are going skiing,” said Caven. “I had one family going to Sundance and they ultimately cancelled and decided on a warm-weather destination.”
Because the northeastern tip of the Yucatan peninsula received severe storm damage last summer, travel to Cancun, Mexico, and the Mayan Riveria is down. And because cruise ships are not docked in New Orleans, cruise travel has dipped considerably.
“Cancun will be back by next year, and by this fall, cruise ships will be going back to New Orleans and cruise traffic will build back immediately,” said Bryan.
Daytona Beach is no longer the spring break zone for student groups, said Georgia Turner, owner of Ormond, Fla.-based Georgia Turner Group.
“Although some students still come here, we have more families here during spring break and have found that many of the ‘hot hotels’ for the event no longer cater to students,” she said. “The CVB stopped promoting spring break a couple of years ago.”
Not as many people are headed to Destin, which has also received some storm damage. “It’s not that they don’t want to go or don’t have the money, they just don’t have the places to go,” said Bryan.
Peggy Shamburger of Avanti Travel said her clients are bucking the travel trends. They’re headed for skiing in Colorado, Disney World and Caribbean cruises.
Two prominent travel trends: people aren’t resting on their laurels, and they’re no longer making all their travel plans alone.
“People aren’t staying home, that’s for sure,” said Caven. “I can’t remember any January or February being any busier than the beginning of 2006.”
Travelers who booked flights last fall got great airfare rates, but those who waited until mid-January or February paid a premium.
“Spring break is so booked up, we’re having a hard time finding airfare anywhere,” said Greenlee. “If you’re looking for airlines out of Jackson on the 9th and 10th of March, seats are extremely difficult to get. As a matter of fact, we’re recommending our people get to the airport early because airlines are notorious for overbooking.”
However the method of travel, people are flocking back to travel agencies.
“I have people telling me: I don’t care what you charge, I’m not doing this by myself anymore,” said Caven.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.