Fort Lauderdale may no longer be the Spring Break mecca for college students it was in the 1980s, but the destination is still wooing travelers during the peak March-to-April travel season.
Fort Lauderdale recently ranked No. 4 among the 10 most desired Spring Break destinations, behind Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, in a review of trips booked on travel website Orbitz.com.
This spring, 1 million travelers are expected to visit Broward County and spend about $1 billion, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
What’s driving its popularity?
A big part of the city’s appeal is the availability of cheap airfares from low-cost and value airlines such as Spirit, Southwest and JetBlue that operate fromFort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
The airport has historically been one of the cheapest in the nation to fly to and from, according toU.S. Department of Transportationdata.
From March 1 to April 22, the average airfare to Fort Lauderdale of $333 was the least expensive of the 10 top destinations ranked by Orbitz.
In addition to low airfares, tourism officials cite the city’s accessibility, warm weather, attractions and wide range of hotels.
“People are finding that it’s not terribly expensive to get here and [that] there’s great value when they get here,” tourism bureau President Nicki Grossman said Friday.
Today the city is attracting a broader Spring Break crowd, including family, business and convention, and college-age travelers, tourism officials say.
Of the 1 million anticipated visitors, only 10,000 to 12,000 are expected to be college students — a far cry from the 380,000 that descended on the area in 1985.
While air fares were cheap, the city’s hotel rates were higher than those of some of the other hot spots.
Fort Lauderdale’s average daily room rate in the period was $148, compared to $115 in Orlando, $96 in Las Vegas and $100 in Fort Myers.
Still, travelers don’t seem deterred.
At B Ocean Fort Lauderdale, girlfriend getaways, family stays and cruise ship layovers are helping to fill rooms this Spring Break, general manager Joel Darr said Thursday.
“The cruise business is on fire,” Darr said of the uptick in pre-and-post cruise stays.
March hotel occupancy is above 80 percent, and April should be even stronger, as the Lauderdale Air Show is set to return after several years’ hiatus, Darr said.
At Delray Beach’s Seagate Hotel & Spa, where season rates start at $339 a night, guests are staying a day longer than last year, General Manager William Sander said. And Spring Break occupancy is up 12 percent over last year.
Sander also noted that more of the hotel’s guests were flying into Fort Lauderdale because flights to Palm Beach International Airport were full.
Officials at the Fort Lauderdale airport are expecting twice the number of passengers to pass through in March compared to September, one of its slower months.
Spring Break “is one of our busiest periods of the year,” spokesman Greg Meyer said.