Spring Break Trends Reveal What’s Next in Travel
30% of U.S. adults have travel plans during the spring break period, similar to 2022, but travelers’ behaviors and expectations are different than they were last year.
Lessened COVID-19 concerns mean that travelers are less reliant on road trips and more likely to venture internationally.
Travel brands should look to spring break travel trends as a signal of what’s to come for the rest of 2023.
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Spring break, the annual rite of passage that conjures images of college students partying on packed beaches, is actually much more than just a week for undergrads to cut loose. For the travel industry, there is an increase in activity across a few full months, starting in mid-February when the first university breaks begin and continuing through March and April, when most primary and secondary schools give students a week off from classes.
This means the time period has broad appeal for more than one type of traveler. And while Gen Zers and millennials — the latter of whom comprise the bulk of parents of school-aged kids — lead the pack in travel plans, 30% of all U.S. adults said they are planning to take a trip during the spring break window (February through April) this year.
When these consumers booked their trips, they likely found it more expensive this year, but that isn’t deterring people from traveling. The share of U.S. adults who said they plan to travel during the spring break window is almost exactly the same as it was last year, further proof that 2023 travel volumes will look very similar to 2022. But while volume remains the same, traveler behaviors have shifted in the past year. Looking closely at travel trends from this year’s spring break period will help provide some foresight into what to expect in the year to come.
Travelers are stepping out of their comfort zones
When travelers initially returned to the road, skies and rails after coronavirus-related shutdowns, they showed a tendency to stick to the familiar, revisiting places they’d previously traveled to and staying closer to home. But travel plans among those taking trips during the spring break period this year suggest that people will be more adventurous throughout the rest of 2023. The share of spring break travelers who said their trips in the next year will definitely include a destination they’ve previously been to is down 7 percentage points compared with the same time period last year, and while the share who said they’ll definitely visit somewhere new is only up 1 point, the decline of the former does suggest a certain open-mindedness and desire for new experiences. Notably, travelers are also more confident setting out solo — the share who said they’d be traveling “to spend time on my own” increased 7 points between 2022 and 2023.
A 30,000-foot view of the data suggests that, after a long period of pulling back, this will be a year when travelers plan trips that provide impactful, memorable experiences. Given the reopening of borders and easing of COVID-19 restrictions worldwide, the appetite for international travel is high — compared with last year, the share of travelers with plans over the spring break period who said their upcoming travel will definitely involve going abroad is 7 points higher, while the share who said they’ll be traveling domestically is down 5 points.
What it means for travel for the rest of the year: While travel volumes in 2023 will likely look similar to 2022, the types of trips people are planning have evolved. Travelers have renewed confidence and will look to make up for lost time by taking farther-flung trips to bucket list locations. This likely means higher spending, which is good news for the industry.
Transportation methods are changing, but accommodation preferences haven’t budged
As travelers were planning spring break trips in 2022, the United States was emerging from a surge in cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19, and concerns about virus spread were still high. As a result, travelers tended to lean toward individually confined, rather than shared, modes of transportation for their trips. In 2023, however, COVID-19 concerns have steeply declined — the share of those with travel plans in the next three months who said they are “very concerned” about COVID-19 is down 10 points compared with last year. Accordingly, travelers are now slightly less focused on using modes of transport that keep them separated from others.
The share that said they’ll travel in their own car during the spring break period has declined by 7 points compared with 2022, while the shares that said they’ll travel by plane and train are up slightly — 2 and 3 points, respectively. While the latter increases are small and within the margin of error, taken together they signal an evolution away from the road trip and toward shared transportation.
Accommodation preferences, on the other hand, have remained markedly steady. No one type of accommodation saw major movement year over year, suggesting that tempered safety concerns won’t nudge travelers to change their behavior in this space. Chain hotels are still the most popular form of accommodation for the spring break period, followed by bunking with friends and family.
What it means for travel for the rest of the year: Travelers will continue to embrace shared, rather than individual, transportation as coronavirus concerns fade. And while broader economic concerns may dissuade some travelers, airlines and other transportation brands should plan accordingly for the volume shifts.
Travelers still seek flexibility — and many are willing to pay for it
With travel plans often up in the air throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers learned that flexibility was imperative and sought out tickets, reservations and bookings that provided the option to reschedule or cancel if needed. Now that concerns about the pandemic have declined so significantly, it’s easy to assume that flexibility is no longer a priority. However, when it comes to both transportation and accommodation, flexibility remains a top consideration for travelers with spring break plans — 80% said it’s a priority in transportation, and 81% said the same for accommodation.
In fact, not only is flexibility important, but travelers with spring break plans are actually more willing to pay for a flexible airfare or hotel booking this year than they were last year, with 12% saying they would shell out an extra $100 or more for a flexible airline ticket and 13% saying the same about a flexible hotel reservation.
What it means for travel for the rest of the year: COVID-19 prompted permanent changes to the way people plan, book and execute their trips. Travelers will continue to seek out (and even be willing to pay extra for) some level of flexibility when booking both transportation and accommodations.
Lindsey Roeschke is the lead travel & hospitality analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the travel & hospitality industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, she served as a director of consumer and culture analysis at Gartner and spent more than a decade working at advertising agencies across three continents. Lindsey graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in communications and holds a master’s degree in strategic communications from Villanova University. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].