Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Mexico violence benefits Lake Havasu, other spring break locations

LAKE HAVASU CITY – Stephanie Conn was sitting at home in Tucson when a friend called her telling her she was missing out on spring break in Lake Havasu.

The University of Arizona student had no problem rounding up friends to make the five-hour drive to the city where rap and hip hop music blasted from speakers, bikini-clad girls danced atop boats and seemingly everyone had a drink in their hand.

“I got up early and have just been partying,” said the 21-year-old Conn, holding a purple drink as she readied to hop on a boat and go cliff diving.

From March through mid-April, tens of thousands of college students head to Lake Havasu in western Arizona for spring break. Local officials say they’re benefiting this year from people like Conn who are making last-minute decisions to travel close to home and who are staying away from Mexico because of increased drug violence there.

Char Beltran, president and chief executive of the Lake Havasu City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the negative publicity about Mexico has led many students to Lake Havasu, just miles from the California border.

Businesses have also been reaching out to college students within a 300-mile radius for months through online promotions, pamphlets and newspaper advertising.

Hotel and boat rental shop managers say business is booming after a slow start to the spring break season. “We’re not solid yet, but we’ll get there,” said Cal Sheehy, general manager at the London Bridge Resort. “We’re confident.”

Other destinations are seeing similarities.

At South Padre Island, Texas, students are booking their trips 60 days later than usual and travelers are opting to drive instead of fly, with gas prices at half of what they were last spring break, said Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At Panama City Beach, Fla., businesses are offering promotions to students in an effort to lure them to the popular spring break spot, and students were shopping for the best deals more so this year than previous years, said Dan Rowe, president and chief executive of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Most of them, from what I’ve seen, are living for the moment,” he said.

Conn, from Berkeley, Calif., went to Mexico for spring break last year and planned it months in advance.

But after UA officials sent out warnings earlier this year about traveling to Mexico and her mom and aunt chimed in on what they said would be a dangerous trip, Conn said, “we’d be stupid to go, really.

“That’s why everyone’s here now,” she said.

Students at Lake Havasu spend much of the day last week on the beach tanning, drinking and dancing or lounging on boats on the lake, trying to attract members of the opposite sex. When the sun goes down, they head to the nightclubs.

Josh Plummer, 24, who graduated from Lake Havasu High School, sounds much like a spring break recruiter for the city.

“They come here for the fun, the entertainment, the sun, for the parties, for London Bridge,” he said. “It’s an all-around good time.”

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