Stephen Reily, Founder and CEO, Vibrant Nation

We know that the holiday season brings on one important decision for college students: where to take spring break?  Is Cancun safe?  What are the best deals in Dayton and Destin?  How many kids (and how few adults) can they cram in that beach condo?

Young families face the same decisions.  Where can they find a deal – and a hotel where no one will complain about the screaming youngsters they cram into their room?

The travel companies who think of these young consumers as the most important targets for spring break travel may be missing the point.  It looks like the most valuable customer for spring break spending isn’t that college student, or her indulgent parents who foot the bill, or the young families traveling when their children have vacation, but those slightly older parents whose children have actually graduated from college and are looking to take a spring break themselves.

Who’s Really Taking Spring Break – and Spending Money On It?

In a recent survey of Baby Boomer women, we learned that spring break isn’t just for the young.

In fact, 58% of Boomer women (now aged 48-65) said that they, too, plan to take their own spring breaks by traveling during late winter/spring.  The desire to escape the grey doldrums of late winter are not reserved for students or the parents of young children.

There are 40 million Boomer women. And 58% of them tell us that they tell us that they spend, on average, $2,600 per extended trip or vacation.  A travel industry that met their interest in spring travel could capture a meaningful share of business from spring breakers over 50.


What Do They Want?

We know where college students and young families want to go during spring break: Florida, Mexico and other crowded sun-spots.  These are exactly the places that Boomer women tell us they want to avoid in their own spring break travels.

Many of them do want the sun, however, and resorts that deliver clear skies in February, March and April without attracting masses of parents with young kids or college students, should try to attract these older, better-spending tourists.  Over 1/3 of these vibrant Boomer women are seeking the beach or another warm place for their own spring break.

But not all of them are chasing the sun.  In fact, a quarter of them want to travel internationally during their own spring break, and the rest are seeking other interesting options within the U.S.

The Spring Break that Matters

Given that 70% of these women also tell us that they plan to spend more money on travel in 2011 than they did in 2010, they are easily worth targeting.  But don’t hold your breath.

Reporters who want marketers to believe that “being Boomer” means turning 65 and worrying about retirement will not be likely to share the story that Boomers are in fact taking more spring breaks than college students, and spending a lot more money on each trip.

And travel marketers swept away with the value of the travelers most likely to drive away others – college students on spring break – are unlikely to decide that they should be focusing on the spring-breakers who actually have money.

But the destinations that do so may find that their hotel rooms are more full, that their bills are paid faster, and that their housekeepers are more likely to find tips than broken lamps in the rooms these spring breakers leave behind.