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College students spend spring break on the Strip

26 March 2010

By Kristi Jourdan

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As college students Sam Arndt and Dana Mortensen sipped on their frosty adult beverages poolside, they talked about how easy it was to plan their spring break trip from the University of Illinois to Las Vegas.

They came to Vegas because of the great deals. But two days before they left the Midwest, university officials warned students not to go to Mexico, leaving some of their classmates stuck heading south of the border anyway.

"Mexico's sketchy as hell right now," Arndt said.

Drug-related violence in Mexico and tough economic times seem to have more college students choosing Las Vegas as their spring break destination. It's unclear just how many more college students are heading to Sin City for vacation, but hotels, casinos and nightclubs are seeing a much larger and younger crowd than in years past.

Cheaper hotel packages combined with round trip airfare allowed the 22-year-old Arndt and a handful of her friends from Illinois to spend the week in Sin City and stay $400 to $500 under budget in an economic climate where every dollar counts.

The girls stayed in luxury at Caesars Palace and spent about $600 apiece for their total expenses during their six-day visit.

University officials e-mailed the students asking those who chose to vacation in Mexico to reconsider their plans. Although Arndt and her crew were not planning to head south of the border, some of their friends chose to go ahead with their plans because it was too costly to switch flights.

But Arndt's friend, 21-year-old Sarah Mason, said if she had planned a trip south, she probably would have gone regardless.

"It sounds terrible, no matter how smart somebody is, they're always going to have that mentality that it won't happen to them," Mason said. "But if I had all of that money already invested in an all-inclusive getaway, I would have still gone. It's too expensive for broke college kids to change those plans."

The U.S. State Department is warning vacationers to be cautious while traveling in Mexico because of the violent drug wars. According to its Web site, drug-related violence in Acapulco has increased, but foreign residents and tourists are not usually targeted.

However, the message to avoid travel to the southern U.S. neighbor is clear.

As he toweled off near the pool at Golden Nugget downtown, Francisco DeAnda, 21, said his father, who owns a ranch in Guadalajara, Mexico, warned him not to come visit.

DeAnda recently left college to join the U.S. Navy.

"My dad says to stay away from the borders because of gang wars and that it's not safe," the Fremont, Calif., native said. "You can fly to places like Cancun, but you shouldn't drive."

Although he "isn't much of a gambler," DeAnda said he couldn't pass up an Internet Vegas deal for six nights at $300 total.

"No one has money to spend, but the clubs and bars on the Strip are for the younger crowds."

Average room rates hover around $93 a night in Las Vegas, but some places are offering rooms for less than half that price. Normally, high-end casinos and hotels on the Strip do not cater to college students on spring break. According to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors, the average visitor is 50 years old, and only 8 percent of visitors are 21 and under.

Not exactly your MTV spring break demographic.

Scott Voeller, vice president of brand strategy and advertising for MGM Mirage, agrees. Hotels on the Strip are combining packages with March Madness deals to lure in younger customers.

"You take a property like a Mandalay, whose beach is incredibly popular, and there's no need to discount," Voeller said.

But other hotels are partnering with other companies and doing cross-promotions. One example he pointed out is the Luxor and Excalibur teaming up to offer discounts on admission to nightclubs.

"Spring break is really one of those packages to build around," Voeller said.

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