Should DMOs Be Pumping the Brakes on Spring Break?

March 18, 2021

The CDC says to skip Spring Break this year, as images of crowded beaches in 2020 are still fresh in the minds of many people. Americans, however, are not always known for following the rules, if the proliferation of unmasked faces outdoors is any indication.

People will still travel, but it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a spike in infections. Since most travelers have still not been vaccinated, staying cautious and vigilant will keep us from sliding backwards in the progress we’ve made as we also try and enjoy a much-needed break.

So, what does this mean for destination marketing organizations (DMO)?

1. Refresh Your Cares Act-Funded “Safety-First Messaging”

Destinations known for their beaches and islands must be prepared to address any spike in visitation by promoting safety messaging and ensuring that any and all information is explicitly clear.

Yet, with booking windows at an all-time low, many travelers have yet to book their Spring Break plans. This provides an opportunity to less traditional destinations to capture some spring break travel dollars.

All DMOs should also consider this a trial run for the summer ahead, when more people, many freshly vaccinated, will be hitting the road again.

2. Maintain Clear Communication with Your Destinations Partners

With curfews and other rules changing all the time, be sure your destination maintains clear communication with all of its partners, from the most luxurious hotel to the most independent tour guide. Having everyone reading from the same page is pivotal.

This means constant, clear, and concise communication and not a 500-page manual of best practices. Creating a “special edition Spring Break” newsletter, for example, or even a digital brochure e-mailed to partners can help let them know that you’re not only keeping things transparent, but that you’re paying attention to their needs.

At the very least be sure your DMO website has a webpage dedicated to partners – if you don’t have one already – that is updated for the realities of travel in 2021.

3. Know the Protocols for Violators

Popular Spring Break destinations like Florida are already making one thing clear: authorities won’t tolerate any nonsense this year. DMOs need to ensure clear communication with law enforcement so that there will be no surprises or inconsistent messaging between legal authorities and tourism officials. Without trying to hamper travel to a destination, trying to prevent irresponsible or illegal activity is certainly more than OK to do.

Know the curfews. Know the rules for alcohol consumption. Know what police are doing. It would be more than a misstep to promote something that local authorities were actively trying to discourage. Cooperation is key, now more than ever, so branch out to have someone on the inside that can make sure you’re all consistently in agreement.

4. Be VERY Active on Social Media

In addition to clear communication with law enforcement, the same sort of effective messaging needs to appear across your social media. This is the time to get creative and generate images, memes, videos, or whatever else you have in mind to captivate and inform travelers, especially younger travelers, who may be at risk for spreading COVID to and from your destination.

Of course, college students are not actively targeted by many destinations. But if they are on your target list, its probably time to invest in a partnership with a TikTok or an Instagram influencer to help push out safe-travel Spring Break messaging. Think of it as an investment in your future, especially as beaches will be on everyone’s to-do list this summer. For any destination not yet engaged with the influencer world, it may be time to get on board.

A key practice that wasn’t so important in the before times is communicating with colleges and universities to know their policies. Many have adapted their calendars to eliminate traditional Spring Break this year in order to prevent students from traveling and returning to class where they may spread infection. It’s a temporary change, but one that will very much impact what students do.

Work with colleges to know who is promoting longer breaks and who is promoting the concept of “sprinkle days,” like Rice and NYU. These smaller weekend breaks scattered throughout the semester may offer chances for destinations to promote local getaways to students who don’t have the time to fly to Cancun or Miami, but who still need a break from the books.

Outreach to these institutions will help clarify who is promoting what, and will even help create relationships that will be useful in communicating more directly with students through their schools.

5. Seize the Opportunity

For every irresponsible traveler who may evade the rules, there is a studious collegiate, or young professional, who wants to travel safely and responsibly. Destinations not traditionally on the map for Spring Break may seize this opportunity to offer an alternative Spring Break. Outdoor destinations with hiking trails, cycling, or some other niche offer like wellness centers, for example, can still provide relief. No one ever said Spring Break had to be warm, and a nice socially distanced trip up north somewhere in nature can still be relaxing – for some people, at least!

Look at your destination’s offers and take stock. Traditional clubbing and partying won’t be on the menu for most places anyway. But paddle boarding through a lazy river, mountain biking through the woods, a hike across a sun-soaked mountain top – it’s all enticing at this point as long as it’s not a computer screen with Zoom permanently burned into it.

Alternative Spring Break used to mean volunteering somewhere, but this year, it might just mean going where no one ever thought to go before and finding something to celebrate or enjoy in that destination. It’s something for destination organizations to keep that in mind this season as we all advocate for safe and responsible travel.


Curious about if you’re doing Spring Break “right” in your destination? This year will be a little different, but there will still be some tourism spend to capture. Get in touch with Kayla Leska at [email protected] to learn how DCI can help you in preparing for spring break, or marketing your destination as an alternative like never before.