Spring break students eye Denver as hot spot

To many vacationers, life's a mountain, not a beach.

An online service that tracks flights that travelers are researching for spring break found interest in the Mile High city is climbing, with a 49% gain in flight searches taking place this year in the weeks before spring break when compared to a similar period in 2009.

And this development comes after Denver's Front Range experienced an unusually frigid winter, with a record number of gray days, accompanied by temperatures that routinely dove below zero. Also curious is the fact that the majority of searchers hailed from states including New York, California, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts, said Scot Carlson, Skyscanner's U.S. and Canada country manager.

"Maybe it's the popularity of the Winter Olympics, but it seems that this year's spring break might just manifest itself on the ski slopes," Carlson said. "Breakers will enjoy less ice on the runs, almost balmy temps at the bottom of the mountain and find cheap tickets to Denver not hard to come by."

Denver officials also report that they've fielded more questions from travelers, with a 20% jump in traffic to Visit Denver's web site over last spring, said Jennifer Elving, senior public relations manager for Visit Denver, a nonprofit charged with increasing convention and tourism business in the region.

But are travelers following through on this interest and booking trips?
So far, Denver doesn't make it onto Travelocity's top 10 destinations for spring break this year, based on bookings at the popular online travel site. At the head of the pack there is Orlando, following by South Florida in second place and Las Vegas in third. Phoenix is fourth -- with travelers headed to Arizona and Florida to watch spring training.

Travel industry watchers say the big surprise is the surge in bookings for Cancun, especially given that the deadly H1N1 flu originated in Mexico last spring. Travel to the country also suffered in 2009 from continuing civil unrest along its border and the lingering recession.

"The real story is Cancun, which jumped from number 10 in popularity last year to number 5 this year," said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor for Travelocity. "The flights and hotels in Cancun are even lower than last year and travelers are responding to the bargains."

More travelers are opening their wallets this spring break, despite the fact that average airfares are up this year when compared with 2009. Average domestic round trip airfare climbed to $351, an 8% gain over last year, and average international airfare increased 3% to $648, according to Travelocity bookings.

Hotel rates, meanwhile, are down, with the average domestic hotel rate falling 3% to $156 over last year, the survey found.

Travelers can still find bargains for spring break in several popular destinations where airfares and hotel rates continue to fall when compared with 2009. These hot spots include Maui, Kona, Puerto Vallarta, San Jose Cabo and the Dominican Republic, according to Travelocity.
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