|Florida's Panama City is enjoying the spring-break boom.|
Twenty years ago, spring-break destinations like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Palm Springs, Calif., passed sweeping ordinances to discourage visitors who were thought to bring more havoc than hard dollars. The party moved to places like Cancun, Mexico, and Daytona Beach, Fla. Fort Lauderdale watched its annual spring break crowd go from a peak of 350,000 college visitors in 1985 to a mere 10,000 in 2006, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. Now faced with ghostly hotels and half-empty restaurants, cities are weighing the financial benefits of hosting the party. Palm Springs' tourism office is trying to lure students back, sending text messages to 55,000 18- to 27-year-olds to tell them the city was the place to be for spring break.
Fort Lauderdale's visitors bureau says on its Web site that it's sticking to a "no thanks" policy for spring break. The group credits its stance for the 70% occupancy rate of its hotels. But it appears that not all college students will be kept away. "It seems as if there's a higher-end college crowd showing up from Ivy League and private schools that aren't your usual wild and rowdy beer guzzler," says a resident of the city's posh Las Olas neighborhood. Despite hesitation from Fort Lauderdale officials, new hotel options have created a buyer's market for young spring-break travelers. Next month, a W Hotel, part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts ( HOT), will open in Fort Lauderdale, following the openings of Ritz-Carlton and Trump International hotels in the past two years.