Cancun and Spring Break, A Thing of the Past

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A hurricane in 1988 was responsible for the birth of the Spring Break phenomenon in Cancun and it was a hurricane in 2005 that washed it away. Travel Agent sat down with Emilio Reyner Portes Gil, director of public relations for the Cancun Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, and got the fascinating story of the rise and fall of the Spring Break market in Cancun.

According to Gil, it was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 that devastated all of the hotels in Cancun and, in turn, scared away every possible market except one, the Spring Break travelers. “In many ways, they saved us,” Gil told us. “But as time went on, we also found that they were drawing all other markets away.”

That was of course until Hurricane Wilma again swept away most of Cancun’s hotel product in 2005. But this time, instead of simply rebuilding, the hotels stepped it up a notch and upgraded as well. Now, with most hotels leaning toward the luxury side of the market (about 80 percent of all Cancun hotels are now five-star in rating), the hotels were shutting out most of the Spring Break clients. And, as Gil told us, it was a great thing for the destination and for travel agents.

Whereas agents were booking packages for about $350-$400 for Spring Break clients, they were soon booking packages of at least $1,200 for families looking for a luxury experience. Now, the Spring Break market has shrunk so much that the market reached its lowest in 2007 than it had been since it first surfaced in 1998. According to Gil, Spring Break guests made up as much as eight percent of all of Cancun’s annual visitors from 1988 to about 2005.

And now? Of the roughly 3.2 million people who visited the destination in 2007, only a mere one percent were Spring Breakers. “The only problem is that not enough people know of this,” Gil told us. “They still think of Spring Break when they think of Cancun and the industry needs to be aware that it is not that way anymore. We still welcome [Spring Break clients] but now we are attracting markets that were scared away for some time. And that’s a good thing for Cancun and even a better thing for travel agents.”

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